The Wind Rises (impressions)
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- 2 Articles
19 February 2014
By Jocelyn Noveck
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but few could justifiably question the beauty of a Hayao Miyazaki film. A revered master of animation, the Oscar-winning director/writer makes something as simple as a hazy sky so ravishing, it can take your breath away.
Miyazaki's latest film, "The Wind Rises," nominated for the animated feature Oscar, happens to take that concept of the subjectivity of beauty and address it in a way that's touching, troubling, and above all, totally unique. If this is indeed Miyazaki's swan song - he's announced his retirement, but not everyone believes it - then it's a worthy one, if perhaps not his most satisfying work, and certainly not his simplest.
What IS beauty? Jiro, whom we first meet as a country boy in Japan, finds beauty in the design of an airplane. He yearns to be a pilot, but is nearsighted. In a dream, he encounters the famous Italian aeronautical engineer Giovanni Caproni, who tells him not to worry - it's even better to build planes than to fly them.
Caproni is not a fictional character - and neither is Jiro. The film is based on Jiro Horikoshi, the engineer who designed the Zero fighter plane used in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II. That's where the film gets complicated. Some have asked why Miyazaki would focus on a man whose creation was ultimately used to kill so many.
One could also see the film as a pacifist statement - showing how a thing of beauty was turned into a killing machine. But Miyazaki has said he didn't mean to be political, wanting simply to portray the story of someone who pursued his huge dream with talent and drive.
The film, produced by Miyazaki's acclaimed Studio Ghibli, presents Jiro (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the English-language version, leading an all-star cast) as a gentle soul. Heading to Tokyo to begin studies in engineering, he encounters a pretty girl on the train. She shares his knowledge of a French poem, and the line: "The wind is rising, we must try to live."
They forge a connection, and then their train is caught up in a catastrophe - the Great Kanto Earthquake that rocked Japan in 1923. (Miyazaki is at his very best in depicting this natural devastation.) Jiro helps the girl make it home.
After university, Jiro is hired by Mitsubishi to design planes (his bosses are voiced by Martin Short and Mandy Patinkin, and even Ronan Farrow has a small role as an employee.) He and his friend, Honjo (John Krasinski) travel to Germany to study what engineers are doing there. The two have long talks about the state of their country. Here, the film's pacing sags somewhat.
Back in Japan, at a hotel in the mountains, Jiro again encounters the girl he met on the train. (This entire relationship is fictional). The two fall in love; the scenes of Jiro wooing Nahoko (Emily Blunt) by sending a paper plane to her balcony inject a welcome dose of charm and whimsy. Of course, the depiction of nature is exquisite - bright blue skies, purple haze, and green fields that resemble an Impressionist painting.
Nahoko, though, is suffering from tuberculosis, and their love story will be a sad one. Also sad, and clearly an important part of the story, is how Jiro's passion for his work will take him away from his doomed lover for many hours, even when she most needs him. (One oddity: there's a lot of smoking here, and it's particularly jarring when Jiro smokes in a bedroom with the very ill Nahoko.)
The ending doesn't shy away from the results of Jiro's passionate design efforts. "Not a single one returned," he says in a mournful dream sequence at the end to Caproni (Stanley Tucci.)
All he wanted, Jiro ruminates in this film, was to create something beautiful. Which is, at least, a feat that director Miyazaki has achieved. Once again.
21 February 2014
If 'Wind' is indeed Hayao Miyazaki's last feature film, it's a fitting farewell
By Michael Phillips
Here's a beautiful apparent contradiction: a gentle, supple picture about the man who designed the Zero fighter plane.
"The Wind Rises" is being marketed as the "farewell masterpiece" of Japanese writer-director Hayao Miyazaki, who brought the world "Spirited Away," "Howl's Moving Castle" and "Ponyo," as well as oversaw and contributed to "From Up on Poppy Hill" most recently. There's a fascinating push/pull in Miyazaki's latest. The film's portrait of engineer Jiro Horikoshi — his early dreams of flight and his success in designing for the Mitsubishi engine company in the run-up to World War II — links the protagonist to the fictional dreamers and strivers and poets of the filmmaker's earlier work.
If this is indeed Miyazaki's farewell, it's a fine one. "The Wind Rises" makes no apologies for what the Zero wrought, like any other war machine, churned out by any other country's factories. Rather, it makes the dream of flight itself a vehicle for bittersweet enchantment.
Certain scenes in "The Wind Rises" reaffirm Miyazaki's brilliance, and I don't use the b-word lightly. When young Jiro, traveling by train, becomes a witness to the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the film's startling depiction of the earthquake is just serious enough to carry weight, yet unexpected enough to carry a touch of the supernatural. The sound the ground makes as it bucks and heaves is like an ancient dragon awakening.
Throughout the film Jiro communes in dreams with his hero, Italian aircraft designer Gianni Caproni. In his waking life, meantime, Jiro's romance with the tubercular love of his life, Nahoko, takes up much of the story, as does Jiro's collegial friendship with his fellow engineer, Honjo. "Who are we planning to bomb with this thing?" one man says to the other, when the pair is sent by their employer to Germany (this is between the wars) to study design. "America, probably," comes the reply. "Not that they could."
Visions of bombed cities in flames emerge naturally out of the action in "The Wind Rises," not in a documentary fashion but in Jiro's mind as he copes with premonitions of things to come. He knows what his creations will be used for in wartime. Caproni advises him at one point: "Artists are only creative for 10 years ... we engineers are no different. Live your 10 years to the full." Miyazaki knows full well it's possible to sustain a varied creative life longer than a decade. But "The Wind Rises," haunted in its glancing way by man's inhumanity to man, believes in beauty and puts that belief into practice, without guile.
I saw the Japanese-language version; most U.S. theaters showing "The Wind Rises" will be presenting the English-dubbed edition featuring the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Stanley Tucci and many more. I hope "The Wind Rises" turns out to be one of those false farewells a major artist makes, before re-entering the creative arena once again. But if Miyazaki never makes another picture, he will have left behind a lifetime of handmade beauty.
28 February 2014
By Kimberly Gadette
Sometimes The Wind Rises soars. Yet, on the other wing, it often crashes to earth. Due to the film’s tepid story, flat characters and achingly slow pace, while the wind does indeed rise … it also blows.
One of the constant themes mentioned throughout the piece is that an artist has only ten good years in order to create. Which is ironic, since the movie’s writer/director Hayao Miyazaki (The Secret World of Arrietty, Ponyo, Spirited Away, The Secret World of Arrietty [sic], Princess Mononoke) is 73 years of age and, his sixth announcement of retirement notwithstanding, is still working away.
Rather than his earlier, juvenile-oriented features, here Miyazaki delivers an animated historical fantasy epic which nods to Japan’s celebrated aeronautical engineer of the early 20th century, Jiro Horikoshi. Miyazaki opens his film with a wide-eyed young boy who dreams of designing airplanes, and who ultimately invents the Zero, the primary fighter plane that was used in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
While the film takes us through such events as the Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the Great Depression, the rise of Nazi Germany and Japan’s eventual entry into WWII, Miyazaki additionally incorporates Tatsuo Hori’s semi-autobiographic novelette, “The Wind Has Risen,” using that story about a tubercular young woman as a jumping-off point to create a love interest for Jiro. A third element is introduced with the inclusion of Jiro’s dream-sequence mentor, the Italian aeronautical engineer Gianni Caproni. (Caproni is yet another fact-based character, responsible for constructing bombers used in WWI before his company followed up by creating multiple flying machines for the Italian Royal Air Force in WWII.)
Problems aside, The Wind Rises is breathtaking to behold. The visuals literally soar: airplanes like birds streaking against a robin’s egg blue sky; lacy forests with the sunlight delicately filtering through; picturesque villages dotting the verdant countryside. Which are all effectively balanced against the yellow-gray tinge of impoverished cities, filthy water, red and black firebombs of exploding aircraft, the ruinous destruction in the wake of earthquakes. The fact that every frame is hand drawn, with the backgrounds hand painted, puts modern digital animation and CGI to shame.
As for the story, a few highlights occur during the dream sequences, with Jiro frequently jumping into fantastical flights of fancy, usually accompanied by the outsized, Howard Hughes-ian Caproni. One particular scenario depicts the two men standing on the wing of an airplane that’s engaged in midflight. While their faces are stationary, shot in close-up, the background reflects a breakneck blur of sky, clouds and land.
Another standout occurs in the final act when we see Jiro standing, frozen, as he stares out at his Zero fighter plane seconds after it has completed its first momentous, historic flight. While his colleagues rejoice, he can’t. Like an Oppenheimer, he suddenly, viscerally understands the ensuing consequences from the weapon of mass destruction that he alone created.
As effective as that one moment is, the film is rife with agonizingly slow sequences that do nothing to advance the story. Scenes of walking, smoking, studying, a man eating watercress, more walking and smoking, Jiro traveling from one part of the globe to another just to return again, Jiro on the run from some Orwellian Japanese police — and then not — are utterly nonsensical. Editor Takeshi Seyama, where were you?
Themes are repeated as if in an eternal loop-de-loop: Japan is technologically backward; dreams are beautiful, dreams are cursed; you must live. And oh, that rising, rising wind. Even Caproni, weary and sarcastic, says, “Is the wind still rising, Japanese boy?”
Worse, characters are painted flatter than any of the movie’s gazillion backgrounds. Our hero Jiro, sporting Harry Potter-esque glasses, is kind, generous, brilliant, brave, humble and noble. Other than his being a workaholic (yet again, for a noble purpose), he possesses no flaws whatsoever. The sister is a scold, the boss is a grouch, the fiancée is altogether lovely and selfless. The only characters depicting any dimension are the effusive Caproni, and Jiro’s best friend/colleague Honcho, who is not only smart but exhibits a shrewd sense of humor.
The Wind Rises is akin to sitting through an unbearably long flight in which the view can only be appreciated so much. Ultimately we need something more, something to keep us engaged. Fortunately for Jiro, he often falls asleep and dreams the tedium away. We wish we could do the same.
3 August 2013
A celebrated director upsets some fans and angers conservatives
A sombre exploration of love, responsibility and death, “Kaze Tachinu” (“The Wind Rises”) is being described as Hayao Miyazaki’s first animated film for adults. After half a lifetime making exquisite fantasy films for children, such as “Princess Mononoke” and “Spirited Away”, Mr Miyazaki, now 72 and viewed as the reigning genius of Japanese cinema, has tackled the true story of an aeroplane maker in the second world war.
The title comes from a Paul Valéry poem: “The wind is rising! We must try to live.” The wind is a portent for the disasters that anchor the film: the 1923 earthquake that levelled much of Tokyo and Yokohama, killing over 100,000 people; and Japan’s terrible war nearly two decades later.
Despite its real-world setting, the film is saturated in fantastical Miyazaki flourishes. It is book-ended with dreams. It starts with a ten-year-old Jiro Horikoshi imagining flying above his provincial home before being wakened by bombs from a hulking aerial warship. The film’s denouement sees him walking through the ruined landscape of wartime Japan, a nightmare partly wrought from his boyhood dreams of flight.
A brilliant but naive engineer, Jiro is based on the real designer of Japan’s Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Once considered the world’s best aerial fighter, the Zero had a feared reputation among American pilots during the second world war. The plane helped launch the war against America when Japanese pilots used it to attack Pearl Harbour in 1941. By 1945 the Zero had lost its technical edge; teenage Kamikaze pilots used them as suicide bombs against the approaching American maritime fleet.
The film follows Jiro as he pursues his childhood fantasies by building a plane. His love of flying is depicted as pure and uncomplicated. There is a sensual, erotic quality to the air scenes; his budding love for his fiancée, Naoko, is conveyed through the soaring flight of paper aeroplanes. Regret comes only in the final scenes.
Born in the year of the Pearl Harbour attack, Mr Miyazaki is imprinted with the pacifism of many Japanese from his generation. His films are often paeans to the natural world and warnings about its perilous state. His heroes tend to be children who warn others about the dangers of greed and militarism, only for their pleas to fall on deaf adult ears.
Fans have questioned why the great pacifist has made a film that appears to lionise a weapons maker. Mr Miyazaki says he was drawn to the story of one of Japan’s great eccentric geniuses. “It was wrong from the beginning to go to war,” he explained in June. “But it’s useless…to blame Jiro for it.”
In a country where politicians regularly rattle the ghosts of the past, this film has sparked debate. Mr Miyazaki recently published an article in which he said he was “disgusted” by government plans to upgrade Japan’s army and “taken aback” by the leadership’s ignorance of history. Though he did not mention him by name, the attack was clearly aimed at Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister. Conservatives have responded by telling Mr Miyazaki to stay out of politics. Worse, some have called the film’s slow-moving style and lack of digital fireworks “boring”.
Mr Miyazaki’s film feels personal. His father directed a company that made rudders for the Zero. And like Jiro, the director grew up obsessed with aeroplanes. A swansong, artistically and politically, “Kaze Tachinu” may soar past its critics. It has been a box-office success in Japan since it opened this month, and it has been chosen to compete for the main prize at the Venice film festival later this summer.
21 October 2013
By David Ehrlich
“The wind is rising! We must try to live.” – Valéry
Legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki needn’t have formally announced his retirement for it to be abundantly clear that his latest feature would also be his last. While the cinema’s most revered animator confirmed on September 6th that he intends to put down his pencil once and for all, “The Wind Rises” is such a magnificently lucid summation of Miyazaki’s fierce humanism and singular genius that the film itself serves as a formal farewell.
The only Miyazaki film since his debut (1979’s brilliant Lupin III adventure, “The Castle of Cagliostro”) not to prominently feature magic, “The Wind Rises” is the wistful work of a man whose consideration of the past belies an overwhelming concern for the future. A classic three-hankie melodrama folded into a biopic, this heavily fictionalized portrait of renowned airplane engineer Jiro Horikoshi – the man credited with designing the A6M Zero fighter that Japanese forces used to attack Pearl Harbor – ultimately resolves as a bittersweet yet breathtaking reflection on beauty in the face of its inevitable decay.
We first meet Jiro in his dreams. A young boy living in rural Japan at the dawn of the twentieth century, Jiro’s unconscious mind is compelled by visions of building a bird-like flying machine and soaring over his small town as the locals look up with awe. These ecstatic reveries, however, invariably rot into nightmares, invaded by monstrous zeppelins that drop living bombs onto the houses and rice fields below as little Jiro is suspended in his airplane, helpless to stop the destruction.
As Jiro grows older his dreams only become more detailed and expressive, not distracting from his life so much as instructing it. Conveyed via some of the most vividly animated sequences that Miyazaki has ever drawn, Jiro’s dreams are alternately both a refuge and a way forward, a place ruled by wonderland logic where his genius can commune with his ideals. It’s in Jiro’s dreams that he meets the eccentric Italian engineer Caproni, an aeronautical pioneer so possessed by visions of flight that he believes Jiro has somehow wandered into his sleeping mind.
As the prodigiously talented Jiro lands a job at Mitsubishi and quickly becomes one of Japan’s most valuable engineers, Caproni returns to him time and again, a veritable spirit guide whose purpose is to repeatedly incept the young genius with the beauty of his inventions must be appreciated independently from the violence of their ultimate purpose. And while “The Wind Rises” is anchored by the love story that eventually dominates the third act – Jiro is haunted by the memory of a young woman named Naoko, with whom he enjoys a chance encounter on the day of The Great Kanto Earthquake – Miyazaki is most passionately drawn to the quiet tragedy of his hero’s brilliance, a singular artist whose extraordinary works were doomed to be deformed as killing machines.
“The dream of aviation is cursed”, Caproni tells Jiro, flashing viewers to modern horrors that lie far beyond the scope of the film, namely the attacks of September 11th when airplanes were again repurposed as weapons unto themselves, a commercial evolution of the kamikaze suicides for which the Zeros were used towards the end of World War II. Condemned to be a dreamer in the time between the two great conflicts of the twentieth century, Jiro understands that his country is headed towards disaster and that he’s actively contributing to the imminent bloodshed.
Redrawn by Miyazaki as a peaceful man endowed with the almost autistically narrow focus that seems required to realize true greatness, Jiro suffers from a profound but ruminative guilt that’s as sincere as it is completely incapable of deterring his creative drive (it’s worth noting that, as an adult, Jiro is voiced by “Neon Genesis Evangelion” creator Hideaki Anno, whose artistic crises serve to latently broaden the horizons of Miyazaki’s portrait). Effectively, he’s presented to us as a more relatable Oppenheimer – one scene finds him actually removing the guns from a military-funded design in order to lighten the aircraft, allowing us to better appreciate how Jiro’s creative spirit is fundamentally independent from its violence.
Miyazaki certainly seems to admire Jiro, but that’s not to be confused for an absolution. Rather, the filmmaker’s gentle approach to his historical subject is ultimately a human one, the twists of fate Miyazaki invents for his protagonist underscoring how the purest of dreams can be perverted into nightmares – it’s no coincidence that the same wind that invokes the meet-cute between Jiro and Naoko moments later spreads a fire across Tokyo that razes the great city to the ground. At one point, Caproni rhetorically asks a sleeping Jiro if he would prefer a world with pyramids or a world without them. Perhaps a vague allusion to the Korean slave labor that was reportedly exploited to manufacture Jiro’s designs, the heart of Caproni’s implication is that the horrors required to realize beautiful things – as well as the horrors which result from them – must never be enough for us to do away with beautiful things altogether, as such a concession would mean resigning to the worst of our nature.
To that end, it’s most appropriate that the great love of Jiro’s life is short-lived, his creative dilemma dovetailing with the immortal question of whether it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. The third act of the film finds Jiro retreating to a quiet hillside resort, described by a character he encounters as “a nice play to forget.” It’s there, at the idyllic getaway where Jiro rencounters a tubercular Naoko, and “The Wind Rises” abruptly seems to pivot from an inquiry about the creative process to a florid and deeply Sirk-ian melodrama, Miyazaki indulging in his habit of using cinematic references to locate us in time (see “Porco Rosso”). Doused in Joe Hishashi’s perfect pan-European score, the film refocuses itself as a love story on borrowed time, resolving in a sublime final scene where we fully understand how the purity of Jiro’s brief romance adds dimension to the central crisis of his live.
While initially jarring, Miyazaki’s unapologetic deviations from fact help “The Wind Rises” to transcend the linearity of its expected structure, the film eventually revealing itself to be less of a biopic than it is a devastatingly honest lament for the corruption of beauty, and how invariably pathetic the human response to that loss must be. Miyazaki’s films are often preoccupied with absence, the value of things left behind and how the ghosts of beautiful things are traced onto our memories like the shadows of a nuclear fallout, and “The Wind Rises” looks back as only a culminating work can. His stories aren’t about the things we’ve lost so much as they’re about the act of remembering them, and though “The Wind Rises” doesn’t forgive us for our transgressions, it directs us back to the beautiful ideas from which they first sprang. After a career spent righteously lambasting us for our greed and our increasing role as an ecological cancer, Miyazaki’s final film resonates as both his bleakest and his most inspiringly optimistic. As though No-Face from “Spirited Away” were exploded into a technicolor assessment of our civilization as a whole, “The Wind Rises” is an indelible reminder that the only way we dishonor the things we’ve lost is by forgetting how necessary it was for us to love them.
Hayao Miyazaki is the greatest animator the cinema has ever known, and he leaves us with perhaps the greatest animated film the cinema has ever seen.
SCORE: 9.7 / 10
Of all Miyazaki’s films, it is most imperative that you see this one in Japanese. If Disney’s release is an English-language dub, well… that would be tragic.
6 March 2014
By Daniel Thomas MacInnes
What are my thoughts on Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises? A jumble of conflicting thoughts and feelings. Powerful. Inspiring. Masterpiece. Verklempt. I have viewed this movie twice, in Japanese and US soundtracks, and on both occasions was overwhelmed. This is a beautiful, deeply haunting film; its heaviness grips my heart and mind, the images soar and sing. There is so much to absorb that you need time to process it all.
The Wind Rises is not a fast or frenetic film; it has a patience and speed that contrasts greatly with the action-adventure serials that defined Miyazaki's youth. But this movie is emotionally overpowering; its images have a sweeping grandeur, like the great surrealist and expressionist painters. Its mood is one of reflection, observation, sadness. It's final message - "The wind is rising, We must live! - is not a message of optimism, but perseverance. It is a celebration of the imagination and the redemptive power of art.
Officially, The Wind Rises is an historical biography, adapted from a fictional memoir about the life of Japanese airplane engineer and designer Jiro Horikoshi, which was then adapted by Hayao Miyazaki into a 2009 graphic novel. The movie tells the tale of Horikoshi's life in the early 20th Century, witnessing the Great Kanto Earthquake and two World Wars, and his haunted dreams of creating wonderful flying machines. That's the "official" explanation; but I also see a parallel story that is deeply auto-biographical: Hayao Miyazaki's own life, his childhood, his passions and dreams. Everything is presented with a surreal Fellini flair; characters, moments and histories play out like Jungian archetypes. The Wind Rises plays like a series of extended lucid dreams in the director's own mind.
There are times when I am watching the young Jiro Horikoshi, and I am convinced that I am seeing Miyazaki as a child, frustrated by his eyesight and dreaming of airplanes. At other moments, Miyazaki's voice inhabits that of Marconi [sic], the Italian airplane engineer who serves as spirit guide and Greek Chorus. At yet other moments, it is the Mitsubishi boss Kurokawa who emerges as Miyazaki, the stern and demanding Ghibli studio boss. Miyazaki the Elder dispenses wisdom to Miyazaki the Younger, guiding and warning in equal measure.
In one scene, Kurokawa informs Jiro that he has won the job of designing an experimental aircraft. Yuri [sic] replies that he wants his childhood friend, and fellow engineer, on the project. Kurokawa flatly refuses with a telling lesson: Never work on projects with your friends; you'll only become rivals. It is impossible for me not to think of Hayao Miyazaki's long partnership with director Isao Takahata, which began at the Toei Doga studio and ended at Studio Ghibli. Theirs is very much like a McCartney-Lennon relationship, before and after the Beatles breakup.
The twin biographies of Horikoshi and Miyazaki flow and intertwine. Miyazaki obsessed about airplanes practically since his birth. Giovanni Caproni was a childhood hero; indeed, "Ghibli" was named after one of his airplanes. As a professional animator, he and his peers struggled with a sense of inadequacy, of being "20 years behind," of needing to learn the craft the rest of the world mastered. They yearned for the respect of the world, which looked down upon them as primitive. Could this have been a driving force that led to the creation of The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun in 1968? Perhaps. And let us not forget that the young Miyazaki, on his first European trip, met author Astrid Lindgren in hopes of collaborating on the Pipi Longstockings anime. The project was cooly rejected, dismissed. This parallels the cold reception received by Horikoshi and his fellow Japanese designers on their encounter with Germany's modern, technologically advanced airplanes.
And, of course, the film's heroine Naoko serves as a parallel for Miyazaki's eternal romantic muse, his wife Akemi Ota. She was also the inspiration for the heroines in Sherlock Hound, Howl's Moving Castle and Ponyo; once again, there is tension between her art and his career, but this time tempered by a personal tragedy that parallels Jiro's professional tragedy. He is doomed to lose everything and everyone he holds dear. He is destined to walk among the gravestones of his dreams.
There is a way that Miyazaki often draws his characters when they are alone, and we see it here with the child Juri [sic] at the beginning. He is frustrated by his poor eyesight, fearing that his thick glasses will mean the end of his dreams of flying aircraft. He face appears thoughtful, but grim; the line on his mouth is curved ever so slightly downward. I've seen this face on other Miyazaki characters before, particularly Nausicaa, his great heroine; Satsuki, the older sister from My Neighbor Totoro; Shizuku, the teenage heroine from Mimi wo Sumaseba. I think that deep sadness gets to the heart of Miyazaki and his work of the Studio Ghibli era. He is an artist who struggles, fights, perseveres, survives.
Above all else, two tragedies traumatized, and defined, Hayao Miyazaki at a young age. The first was the devastation of the Second World War, the destruction of his homeland, and the difficult aftermath. Apocalyptic visions of doom permeate his work, so much that we almost take it for granted. "The Wind is Rising" - inspiration and destruction in equal measure.
The second great trauma for Miyazaki was his mother's decade-long battle with tuberculosis. Her long illness against the disease emerged as a major story thread in My Neighbor Totoro, and the latter chapters of the Nausicaa graphic novel, which lays the artist's emotions bare. I have often wondered if his mother's death in 1981, along with professional decline at that period (in the early 1980s, his animation career was all but finished), was the catalyst behind Miyazaki's gloomier, more complex tone that emerged in the 1984 Nausicaa film. The second half of his career is defined as more personal, more probing. The first half...well, there's quite a difference between Nausicaa and Animal Treasure Island, wouldn't you say?
The Wind Rises is Miyazaki's most personal, almost confessional work, a fusion of Kurosawa and Fellini; of despair and survivor's guilt; of respect for, and abhorrence against, his home country; of romanticism and innocence; of the love for his wife and passion for his art; and an abiding awareness of what that ambition has cost his family. A vast emotional palette is on display, but balanced by the wisdom of age. Astonishment and sorrow are presented in equal measure, with a calm acceptance.
In this vein lies the relationship between Jiro and Naoko. Their courtship is freely playful, innocent. Theirs is a romance right out of 1940s Hollywood; one of my favorite scenes shows them playing with a paper airplane, made by Jiro, that freely morphs into a small bird and back again (Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro are quoted here). But once marriage is proposed, Naoko reveals that she is stricken with tuberculosis, a death sentence in 1930s Japan. Their relationship suddenly takes an ephemeral turn; as her health declines, every moment becomes precious. Moments of beauty are cherished but suffering and loss must be endured.
The moment when Naoko collapses in a lung hemorrhage, coughing blood on her painting, carries a devastating power. It shocks you to the core, and you immediately feel it in your gut. You know how this gentle wife's story will end. It is here that Miyazaki intertwines the couple's passions and tragedies - his professional dreams, her art and freedom and illness, their marriage. What happens in one sphere is symbolically linked to the other. Naoko's quiet resistance, her peaceful defiance of her fate, her dreams of living a normal life - these are her cursed dreams.
For me, the film's most powerful moment is not the terrifying Kanto Earthquake, but the quiet scene where Jiro and Naoko are married at the Kurokawa residence. Naoko's presence, in glorious traditional dress, is almost ghost-like. She floats above the ground, her hair flowing, the red of her kimono glowing. And her face is one of tremendous sadness, gratitude, and acceptance. Hers is the face of a young person who knows they will die young, and every second becomes miraculous. Kurokawa recites the vows, pronounces the young couple married, then fights back his tears, overwhelmed. Verklempt.
In one early scene, the boy Jiro sees a small child being threatened by larger bullies. He immediately rushes to the rescue, and we are shown his courage and virtue. As an adult, the scenario echoes: a young man runs through nighttime streets, pursued by the Gestapo, who snarl and bark as they run. This time, Jiro stands still, motionless. He does not intervene.
Jiro Horikoshi's career presents a moral paradox that is central to The Wind Rises: In order to pursue his dream of creating beautiful flying machines, he must create warplanes that will kill. His Zero Fighter will be remembered for Pearl Harbor, the Pacific War, the Kamikaze divers. Miyazaki makes his moral stance clear, not only against the war, but Japan's slide into fascism and total destruction. But how does Jiro feel? Does he sufficiently rebel against this madness? Does he fight harder against this momentum to war? Does he stand up to the bullies and defend the innocent?
"Airplanes are cursed dreams," Caproni intones, and throughout his life, Jiro's dreams of flight are corrupted by nightmares of war, death, destruction. Planes are smashed to pieces. Cities are bombed and set ablaze. Yet he chooses to create, despite these prophesies; he chooses to live in "a world with pyramids." It is uncertain how much guilt he feels, or how much responsibility he accepts, for his actions. His struggle to preserve beauty in the face of tragedy is a quiet, internal one. This has proven challenging for some American viewers.
I personally find this makes the character of Jiro Horikoshi more nuanced, more complex. Heroes in American movies, and especially American animated films, are expected to be perfectly virtuous and absolutely good. Real life doesn't quite work that way, and neither does Hayao Miyazaki. His characters, just like Isao Takahata's characters, are allowed the freedom to be flawed, to make mistakes. And you are allowed the freedom to criticize their actions. The question of the war is one of The Wind Rises' central themes, just as it is a central theme in Hayao Miyazaki's life. What's fascinating is how he keenly identifies Japan's sense of insecurity, their fear of becoming lost to modernity, as the root cause that leads to empire and war. The airplane engineers are seduced by Germany's industrial strength, their modern technology, their metallic planes, and desperately feel the need to catch up. And so Japan embarks on grand dreams of military might, and the questions are asked: "Who will be the target of all these bombers? Against whom will you wage war? The answer, almost carelessly: "Everyone. Maybe China, maybe America."
I don't put Jiro into this class; he's a true artist who is only concerned with creation, not destruction. And so he forges forward, not wishing to design warplanes but doing so anyway. Could he have chosen differently? Could he have resisted the war machine? Could he have turned the irrational march toward war and destruction? And is it fair to put such burdens on his shoulders? All are debatable points; none are easily resolved.
Obviously, we cannot discuss The Wind Rises without singing its praises as an animated film. This movie looks absolutely spectacular, a new high-water mark for Japanese animation. Given the film's enormous budget by Japanese standards ($50 million, five times as much as 1997's Princess Mononoke), we never see another anime film so positively lush, so immaculately detailed, so thrillingly alive. Every corner of the screen is animated with grass, flowers, trees, clouds, men and airplanes.
The Caproni dream sequences allow Miyazaki to indulge his surrealist side, and has truly become a master of the form - the Fellini of our age. His flying machines are bird-machine hybrids, with feather wings and engines that pulse like heart beats. Enormous flying craft are packed with jovial, celebrating families, stretching and bulging the frames. Caproni's planes are an endless, enormous party. It's impossible to not become intoxicated by his visions. Such a world would be glorious.
The Kanto Earthquake sequence is rendered in spectacular, animist fashion, rumbling and groaning, as though the earth itself were swallowing you whole. A silent ripple underneath the city explodes into galloping hills, collapsing buildings, burning everything in sight. Entire streets are swallowed whole, rooftops ripple and disintegrate. And as sudden as it begins, the quaking stops. All that is seen are bewildered faces, rubble, smoke and fire. Aftershocks emerge and vanish without warning. These scenes are clearly inspired by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, and no doubt many seats [sic] in Japanese theaters were squirming uncomfortably in their seats.
As always, the amount of technical detail in the artwork is astonishing. It is a Ghibli trademark that is unmatched anywhere in the world. One of my favorite scenes involves Jiro newly at his desk, opening his papers, working with his slide rule. His movements are astonishingly smooth, and the detail on his instruments so sharp and detailed, you could actually perform real work. The Wind Rises is filled with such moments, of getting into the marrow of hard work, of showing you the equations and sketches and rivets and wings. This is one of the great movies about the craftsmanship of creating art. I can share that admiration as I battle endless through this very film essay. It's a battle to create something, a struggle, and it's also a process of discovery.
Miyazaki paints with an enormous canvas; there are many wide panning shots and long takes, many wonderful visas of cloud-filled skies and gigantic hangers and dense forests. And throughout it all, the winds blow. Japanese animators have an intimate understanding of nature that simply does not exist here in the West. They understand the nature of wind and water and soil as living things, as persons themselves. It is impossible to inhabit these woods, hills and mountains, and not feel overwhelmed by the sheer beauty. The moments of terror and tragedy make the peaceful moments all the more miraculous. It's as though the beauty of the world is paid with the cost of human suffering.
I can continue this discussion indefinitely. There's just so much to admire, to reflect upon, to talk about. We haven't even come to the German businessman, voiced by the great Werner Herzog in a scene-stealing performance. We haven't mentioned many characters like Jiro's sister and childhood friend. We haven't talked about that magnificent closing song. We have yet to get into the countless number of riffs and allusions to Hayao Miyazaki's entire career.
And, most of all, we haven't talked about the question of Miyazaki's retirement. Nobody wants to believe this master of cinema could retire from directing feature films, just when he has reached a new artistic peak. The Wind Rises is an absolute masterpiece, like Fellini's Amacord and Akira Kurosawa's Madadayo and The Beatles' Abbey Road mashed together. Yes, this is a movie about goodbyes and final messages, of lessons learned, achievements honored, tragedies forgiven. What more is left to be said? What new insights and messages from a 50-year career (a career that, to this day, remains largely unknown to American audiences) have yet to be shared? And so it is best to walk away, to try to live. And the wind cries. Verklempt.
1 September 2013
The latest from Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki looks astonishing but fails to face up sufficiently to the politics of its subject – genius fighter jet [sic] designer Jiro Horikoshi
By Xan Brooks
Hayao Miyazaki, the master craftsman of hand-drawn animation, comes bumping into Venice with The Wind Rises, a gorgeous yet ultimately frustrating tribute to the Japanese airplane designer Jiro Horikoshi. Here is a film with a clean outline and a foggy centre. I wanted to love it, tried to love it and then went down in flames. It turns out that it is not always possible to view the beauty in isolation. Sometimes you need to take a long, hard look at the outside world and then perhaps connect the two.
The Wind Rises tells the story of a peaceful man in the service of ruinous ends. It is a film about pure artistry and impure results. Jiro Horikoshi is the myopic, wide-eyed genius who winds up assisting the rearmament of Germany and goes on to create the phenomenal Mitsubishi Zero fighter jets for the Japanese military. "Who are they going to fight?" he says idly, as though he's asking about the weather forecast. Jiro, it seems, has no particular interest in promoting the war or preventing the war. He is more concerned with the health of his sickly fiancee; more focused on the wonderful nuts and bolts business of designing his planes. "The dream of aviation is cursed," a ghostly mentor tells him at one stage. "But what would you choose – a world with pyramids or one without?"
Jiro's Zero fighters were later built at slave labour camps and were used for kamikaze missions, although the film does not mention this. Jiro, for his part, is painted as an innocent, incurious man who perhaps feels that his responsibilities end when his planes are complete. All of which would be fine – a great springboard for a drama about art and its consequences – were it not for the fact that Miyazaki is so incurious too. The film-maker so clearly admires his subject that he never truly stoops to question his vision or hold his man to account.
Naturally the animation is a joy to behold. The film's crisp colours and commanding lines summon up a ravishing portrait of pre-war Japan with its puffing steam-trains, huddled neighbourhoods and lulling nocturnal tram-rides through town. Some of the setpieces (most notably the apocalyptic earthquake that leads to the burning of Tokyo) are the equal of anything the director has produced in Spirited Away or My Neighbour Totoro. But the film itself is genteel to a fault. It's too polite, it needs more bite. It lets enigmatic Horikoshi off the hook, bobbing out to the clouds, forever out of reach.
The Hollywood Reporter
3 September 2013
Animation master Hayao Miyazaki delivers a searing vision of Japan between the wars, told through the eyes of a young aviation engineer.
By Deborah Young
After the extraordinary adventures of Porco Rosso and Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, revered animation wizard Hayao Miyazaki has become the numero uno Japanese animator at Western festivals; his mere name in the title cards, along with his Ghibli studio, brings on a round of applause. The ambitious The Wind Rises is something of a special case that will divide audiences into two camps, those who find it an unforgettably beautiful and poetic ode to life, and those who tune out to its slow-moving second act, which can wear down the patience of even the well-disposed. On the other hand, the daring subject -- the engineering of technically advanced war planes by the Axis powers for use in the Second World War – is so honestly handled it should not present a problem for Western viewers. In the U.S., the film will spread its wings with fans of animation and take flight in a Walt Disney release after showcasing at Venice, Toronto and the New York Film Festival.
The amazingly detailed, somewhat old-school visuals that emphasize soulful natural scenery instantly immerse viewers in the dream world of protag Jiro Horikoshi (Hideaki Anno), a heroic, self-effacing boy who becomes a brilliant young aeronautics engineer. The character is based on the real-life Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japan’s Zero fighter, used against Pearl Harbor and in kamikaze operations. It is also a tribute to poet-novelist Tatsuo Hori, who struggled with tuberculosis.
The early scenes of the film depict the 1923 earthquake which devastated Tokyo and Yokohama. It was followed by a firestorm and typhoon, all magnificently and frighteningly rendered as college-bound Jiro travels on a train. It is there he meets and saves his future love Nahoko (Miori Takimoto) as a young girl.
In these pre-war years, the studious young Jiro gets a job and is quickly promoted by the chief engineers at Mitsubishi to head the project design for a new fighter plane. Though this may not be the sexiest subject for an animation film, Miyazaki injects drama and quiet heroism into his struggles with the slide-rule and flush-riveting. Hideako Anno wins sympathy for his calm, noble voicing of the tall, bespectacled young egghead, an Einstein-like inventor whose inspiration comes from the world of his dreams.
A recurring dream of Jiro’s is meeting the flamboyant Italian airplane inventor Giovanni Caproni, who takes him on incredible flights aboard fantasy aircraft. They literally “share their dreams” of pioneering futuristic planes. Of a darker stripe is his actual encounter with Hitler’s aviation designers, who are menacing and secretive when he and his friend are sent on a mission to Germany. But not even they can be called true villains in a film that shows WW2 from the Axis side as an inevitable calamity over which people had no control. The war itself remains off-screen, except for a chilling final vision of vapor trails clawing the air above ugly dark clouds, and below them a cemetery of metal pieces from fallen planes. “Not a single plane came back,” says Jiro disconsolately. "That's what it means to lose a war." This attitude of regret, but not apology, makes The Wind Rises a very honest film from a great Japanese artist.
Jiro’s professional rise parallels his romantic love story with the delicate young Nahoko, a victim of the tuberculosis epidemic. They meet on vacation in a mountain resort, which Miyazaki compares to the sanatorium in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. A debonair German visitor (voiced by Stephen Alpert) confides to Jiro that “the Nazis are hoodlums” and is dubbed “Castorp” by the young people after Mann’s protagonist. Their courtship and Nahoko’s illness take center stage in the film’s second half, where the film begins to lose focus as personal elements of the story prevail.
The titles comes from an oft-quoted poem by Paul Valery, which simply recites: “The wind is rising. We must try to live.”
27 February 2014
By Matt Patches
Refracted through the imagination of revered animator Hayao Miyazaki, the dreams of aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi are as wondrous as a serpentine dragon, a parade of wood spirits, or a dancing Totoro. But even when Jiro's mind opens the door for endless possibilities, Miyazaki favors reality. In visions he conjures plane designs that nestle into the laws of physics, and soar across the sky like fantastical creatures. But in the real world, mankind's hazy morals and violent tendencies encroach upon true passion. What is beautiful is easily used for destruction.
For his final film, Miyazaki constructs a heart-wrenching tale of creativity and love that strives to find humanity in the haunting legacy of World War II. Yes, The Wind Rises is a cartoon, but animation unlocks its deepest emotions.
From his earliest days, Jiro (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) pictured himself designing airplanes like his idol, Giovanni Battista Caproni. Even while sleeping, his mind is filled with pictures of aircrafts and Caproni (voiced with Italian gusto by Stanley Tucci), encouraging him to realize his art. So he does. Jiro becomes a prodigy of aviation, training at the top college in Tokyo and landing a position at one of Japan's biggest airplane manufacturers.
But despite his close colleague Honjô (John Krasinski), his boss, Kurokawa (Martin Short), and the company's owner, Hattori (Mandy Patinkin), championing his craft, Jiro still lives under the thumb of the military. He designs fighter jets and they fail. He travels to Germany to learn from their top engineers, only to witness a war brewing on the streets. He knows devastation is looming, and yet he's compelled to fashion the perfect plane. As the weight of his actions weigh on him, Caproni appears to him in a dream: "Do you prefer a world with pyramids, or with no pyramids?"
Miyazaki complicates Jiro's historically accurate story by adding a fictionalized love interest. What could easily drown the pensive drama in schmaltz becomes some of the animator's most tender work. During a much-needed excursion to a mountain resort, Jiro's crosses paths with Nahoko (Emily Blunt), a young girl he rescued years before during Tokyo's Great Kanto Earthquake. Her reappearance triggers a flood of memories for Jiro, a first love that never went away. He's stricken. While the blossoming romance might play a bit abstruse by American tradition, Miyazaki's writing (translated with an English dub team from Disney/Pixar) alleviates any concerns — Jiro and Nahoko share an absolute love.
The Wind Rises came under fire by Japanese and American critics for turning a blind eye to the atrocities that Jiro Horikoshi's creations would go on to forge (mainly, his Zero fighter plane, used to lay waste to Pearl Harbor and in several other kamikaze attacks). Other than a nod at the end, the film never confronts World War II directly. But it's always there, haunting Jiro, tightening around his life like an existential noose. In the hands of both Gordon-Levitt and original Japanese voice actor Hideaki Anno (creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion), Jiro is a hushed, contemplative lead who we see squirming in his tight spot. Life throws him no bones, but he always has his head up. It's heartbreaking.
After professing his love to Nahoko, the designer learns that his love is suffering from tuberculosis that will surely kill her in the years to come. It's another blockade for Jiro, who can only see beauty in the moment. Like the perfect curvature of a mackerel bone, a natural image that would inspire his death machines, Jiro can only feel the immediate warmth he feels being with Nahoko. Looking ahead is disastrous, but looking ahead wouldn't let him live and thrive as an individual. It's an impossible situation, one that forces Jiro to indulge in his romance with Nahoko and, perhaps, take advantage of the sick girl's reciprocated feelings. What Miyazaki doesn't say is as essential as what he does.
Though he keeps the political and humanist agendas ambiguous, Miyazaki splashes his canvas with visual splendor of all forms. Jiro's dreams glow with a golden age, Technicolor sheen, while his recreation of the earthquake is as titanic and terrifying as any monster he's unleashed on screen. Like Jiro, Miyazaki is a craftsman mesmerized by detail. The animation in The Wind Rises is meticulous, from scratches in wood boards to Jiro's subtle movement, Miyazaki showing us his character's love through frantic motion.
Animation may seem unnecessary for a human drama, but The Wind Rises' justifies it with delicacy and chromatic accomplishment. The Wind Rises is painted beautifully so we can watch that beauty be overtaken by darkness.
Deliberately paced and energized by Joe Hisashi's musical mix of Eastern themes and Italian mandolin, The Wind Rises is an ode to the creative spirit, the intoxication of love in all of its forms. The film doesn't take the obvious moralistic steps that could avert backlash — it's pure Miyazaki, a perspective influenced by history and reflective of a 50-year career. With Wind Rises, Miyazaki chooses a world with pyramids.
The Japan Times
18 July 2013
Ghibli's Miyazaki soars into different skies
By Mark Schilling
Whenever Hayao Miyazaki, now 72, makes a film, fans and critics weigh it against this anime master’s past triumphs — and often find it wanting. Japanese critics, especially, fondly recall the films that Miyazaki directed at the start of his long career as peaks. That is, 1979′s “Lupin Sansei: Cagliostro no Shiro (Lupin the Third: Castle of Cagliostro)” over 1997′s “Mononoke Hime (Princess Mononoke),” the period fantasy that was a box-office smash at home and broke Miyazaki widely abroad.
I’ve resisted playing this game, and not only because I like the gorgeously strange “Mononoke” more than the jokey “Cagliostro.” I’ve admired Miyazaki for his unbridled imaginative flights and prodigious labors at a time of life when many animators have long since burned out, even when the films themselves were narratively long-winded or baggy. And I’ve loved the worlds he created, with their finely observed, lushly rendered naturalism that made even the more out-there scenes feel thrillingly beautiful and real, the train ride through the water in 2001′s “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away)” being one well-remembered example.
That naturalism is still front and center in his latest film, “Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises),” but it is also suffused with nostalgia for a vanished time, similar to 1992′s “Kurenai no Buta (Porco Rosso),” his “air pirates” animation set in the inter-war era. Based on a Miyazaki manga that mixes the prewar life of famed Zero fighter-plane designer Jiro Horikoshi with a 1938 Tatsuo Hori novelette about star-crossed love, the film is again drawn with loving attention to period detail, as well as stirring flights of fantasy.
The story, however, reworks antique formulas such as “bright young man makes good” and “young lovers are parted by cruel fate” that powered many a studio film when Miyazaki himself was younger. In fact, Hori’s “Kaze Tachinu” was made into two live-action films, in 1954 and 1976. Miyazaki, who also wrote the script, does little particularly new with these formulas, save adding dream sequences in which his hero, Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by veteran animator Hideaki Anno), encounters Gianni Caproni (Mansai Nomura), a pioneering Italian aircraft designer and his fabulous (in all senses of the word) planes. Caproni, portrayed as comically portly and blithely fearless, serves as a sort of life guide for the hero, while his planes are sensual delights for not only their grace in the air, but the fleshy, carefree young women who fill them. Miyazaki, after decades of drawing spunky 13-year-olds, has allowed himself a rare moment of erotic freedom.
In the waking world, however, Jiro is that standard-issue type, the smart, nerdy kid with the big dream. But unlike the many contemporary cinematic examples who are physically weak and socially awkward, Jiro is brave and bold. Coming to Tokyo for college, he selflessly assists a girl he meets on the train in the chaotic and deadly hours following the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. Then, after graduating with a degree in aeronautical engineering, he plunges into a new job at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, a major aircraft maker, with a fresh eye for innovation and a cheerful disregard for naysayers, beginning with a pint-sized, perpetually frowning senior named Kurokawa (Masahiko Nishimura).
In this, he resembles Miyazaki, who as a young animator rose through the corporate ranks of Toei Animation with new ideas backed by a talent for persuasion — and brilliant execution. The path of Jiro and his colleagues is not always onward and upward, however, as planes falling out of the sky prove, but they refuse to be discouraged. Always motivating Jiro is his mission, inspired by Caproni, to “make beautiful airplanes,” though his military clients will use them as weapons of war.
Then, a decade after his arrival in the big city, Jiro serendipitously reunites with the girl, Naoko (Miori Takimoto), now a vibrant young woman who loves painting as much as he loves planes. A big-nosed foreigner (Steve Alpert) at the Karuizawa hotel where they are both staying serves as a sort of Cupid, while her well-off father (Morio Kazama) approves of their friendship, which soon blossoms into something more. Their new bliss is symbolized by the balletic flight of a Jiro-designed paper airplane, but Naoko’s tuberculosis takes a turn for the worse — and their time together suddenly becomes all the more precious.
So, yes, “The Wind Rises” is an old-fashioned tearjerker, but it is also a visually sumptuous celebration of an unspoiled prewar Japan.
At the same time, Miyazaki inserts reminders of the era’s social and economic turmoil and hints of later environmental calamities, as well as stark visions of the war that would sweep much of the old loveliness away. By the end, the film feels like a summing up of everything he’s made and cherished and fought against to date and, perhaps, a swan song. If so, he’s crafted a soaring goodbye on the wings of his beloved planes — and paper touched by the hand of genius.
Fun fact: The title is a reference to a line from the Paul Valery poem “Le Cimetiere Marin (The Graveyard by the Sea)” that translates as: “The wind is rising! We must try to live!”
12 December 2013
Hayao Miyazaki ends a brilliant career on a shameful note
By Inkoo Kang
In today’s era of global box offices, few studio films are made for just one country, especially by a director of Hayao Miyazaki’s international stature. But the beloved animator’s latest and last work, The Wind Rises, is a film whose meaning and power vary so greatly in different cultural and geographical contexts that Miyazaki should have fought for it to never leave his homeland. The bloodlessness of the film contributes to its whitewashing of an incredibly bloody history.
The Wind Rises is custom-made for postwar Japan, a nation that has yet to acknowledge, let alone apologize for, the brutality of its imperial past. Nearly 70 years after Emperor Hirohito’s surrender, the Japanese military and medical institutions’ greatest evils, like the orchestration of mass rape, the use of slave labor, and experimentation on live and conscious human beings, remain absent from school textbooks. Japan scholar Hanna McGaughey, a personal friend, has stated in private conversations that “pussyfooting” around war crimes is the only strategy Miyazaki had at his disposal to avoid being dismissed by his domestic audience as “silly” or “inappropriate.” Indeed, some of his fellow citizens have already accused Miyazaki of being a “traitor” and “anti-Japanese.”
But there’s no reason why critics and audiences outside of Japan should be morally complacent in the animator’s concessions to his countrymen’s egos. The Wind Rises perpetuates Japanese society’s deliberate misremembering and rewriting of history, which cast the former Empire of the Rising Sun as a victim of World War II, while glossing over — or in some cases completely ignoring — the mass death and suffering its military perpetrated. Critics who fail to observe or protest Miyazaki’s “pussyfooting” around a regime that caused more deaths than the Holocaust aid and abet Japan’s continued whitewashing of its war crimes.
In The Wind Rises, Miyazaki uses real-life aircraft engineer Jiro Horikoshi as an extreme example of ordinary Japanese citizens’ indifference to the atrocities committed in their name. Jiro, as he’s referred to in the film, finds such beauty in airplanes and flight that he feverishly pursues the next level of killing machines for Mitsubishi, justifying his work by comparing his planes to the pyramids. The reference to the pharaohs might allude to the fact that Mitsubishi used Chinese and Korean slave labor to build Jiro’s Zero planes. But the character never considers whether the slaves who died making those pyramids might not believe the results were worth their lives.
Jiro represents the moral myopia of the imperial Japanese citizenry and of the aesthete. His shortsightedness is quite literally symbolized by his Harry Potter-esque glasses, which, paired with his lavender suits, make him look perpetually youthful and innocent. (Yes, he’s animated, but his boss appears much older and his friend Honjo less boyish.) Like most biopics, The Wind Rises is guilty of a bit of hagiography. Early in the film, Jiro is a good Samaritan who rescues a little girl from a train wreck. But his goodness and innocence have a pathological purity to them, too, as illustrated by his devoted but sexless marriage to his sickly wife. It’s that dedication to an ideal of “purity” — whether it be of aesthetics, nationalism, or ethnicity — that Miyazaki subtly condemns in his film.
But The Wind Rises declines to challenge mainstream Japanese society’s distortions and denials of its wartime atrocities. Worse, it echoes Japan’s morally dishonest stance that it was a victim, rather than a perpetrator, of a global war — a whitewashed version of history that the film now imports to every country where it plays.
Consider the first scene. Jiro is a young boy; in his dreams, he heads for the skies in a wooden aircraft. A constellation of black dots appears above him, soon revealed to be a hangar’s worth of missiles and bombs. They dangle from a zeppelin embossed with the Iron Cross. The explosives fall on Jiro, reducing his plane to splinters.
The rest of the film is suffused with this fear of German aggression, and it’s an ethically mendacious choice of a bogeyman on Miyazaki’s part. In The Wind Rises, the alliance between Germany and Japan — the original Axis of Evil — is conveniently forgotten, as scene after scene shows the Japanese bombarded by Teutonic suspicion, condescension, and hostility. Reframing the Japanese as the victims of Nazi racism deflects attention from the heinousness of the Japanese Imperial Army. But Miyazaki’s elevation of his own countrymen as morally loftier to the Nazis is only credible when the viewer forgets (or is unaware) that the Japanese military justified killing 30 million people across Asia with its own ideology of ethnic superiority.
The Wind Rises continues this blame evasion throughout, evincing an ideal of pacifism while positioning Japan as the target of Chinese and American assault. We see Japanese planes downed by a Chinese foe in a mid-film reverie — a shockingly insensitive image given that Japan was invading China during this time, not the other way around. Later, an American bomber floats above a graveyard of burned-out aircraft over the defeated Japanese empire. In contrast, no Japanese pilot is ever seen shooting at an enemy, even though Jiro’s most famous invention, the Zero plane, was designed and used solely for military purposes. The consequences of his work — that is, corpses — are likewise absent. In the film, Jiro never expresses sympathy for the people his people killed. His grief is strictly reserved for the deaths of his planes. His preference to mourn his Zeros, rather than the planes’ victims, illustrates his soft-handed callousness. The bloodlessness of the film contributes to its whitewashing of an incredibly bloody history.
No surprise, then, that The Wind Rises has already created an uproar among South Koreans (who haven't yet seen the film), arguably the biggest recipients of Japan’s 40-year colonial cruelty (1905-1945). The Wind Rises’ specious pose of self-victimization will and should disgust the living survivors and their descendants in the myriad other countries Japan invaded during World War II: China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia; the list goes on.
It’s hard to believe that, were The Wind Rises set in an interwar Germany and focused on an idealistic dreamer who just wanted to design the world’s most beautiful U-boat and didn’t care a whit about the concentration camps, it would receive a similarly adoring reception here in the U.S. (At the time of writing, the film enjoys a 82 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has appeared on several best-of-year lists.) One would hope that critics who aren’t suffering from Japan’s culture of mass delusion about its war crimes would take into consideration the warped version of history Miyazaki has to accommodate and, to a large extent, perpetuates.
The Wind Rises is just one film, but it echoes an entire country’s obsession with misremembering a deeply painful and extraordinarily violent past. Japan’s wartime victimhood is a convenient lie its citizens have told themselves for decades. That the aging Miyazaki has misguidedly lent a patina of wistful beauty to that lie is a shame. The Wind Rises ends the illustrious career of a treasured visionary on a repellent, disgraceful note.
Las Vegas Weekly
26 February 2014
By Jeffrey M. Anderson
Perhaps the world’s greatest living animator, Hayao Miyazaki has hinted at his retirement at age 73, and now offers the world one final film, The Wind Rises. It showcases him at the height of his powers, in tune with nature’s rhythms, depicting earthquakes, weather and gusts of wind with a powerfully organic feel; certain audio effects almost sound human.
Last year, the movie was shown to critics and Academy voters in its original Japanese, and it received many accolades, including an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. Now the English-language version, supervised by Disney, has arrived in theaters.
Overall, it’s Miyazaki’s most troubling film. It tells the story of Jiro Horikoshi, a famous Japanese aviation engineer. In essence, audiences are asked to root for him to build his perfect plane, the “zero fighter,” which will be used in World War II against the United States. Miyazaki paints his hero as an artist—obsessed with weight and airflow and curves—and a pacifist. But the glaring facts remain.
The English-speaking voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Martin Short, Werner Herzog, William H. Macy and Stanley Tucci might have softened this ill effect, but they do not. Worse, the translated dialogue now sounds like turgid melodrama, soapy and pained.
Certainly there’s nothing here for kids. The movie is a typical biopic, making huge leaps to smash an entire life story into two hours. The result is, as usual, a succession of highlights with little depth. When Jiro takes time off from work to spend with his deathly ill beloved, Naoko Satomi, it feels more like a distraction than a connection.
Miyazaki’s greatest works, like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away, embrace the enchanting and the magical. The Wind Rises occasionally reverts to dream sequences in which Jiro meets Italian aircraft designer Giovanni Battista Caproni. But even these seem a bit too literal.
Miyazaki is a plane nut, and he clearly made this film as a labor of love. But his greatest plane movie is the underrated Porco Rosso (1992), which not only incorporates imaginative fantasy elements into its narrative, but also includes breathtaking representations of planes in flight. The Wind Rises, sadly, takes place mostly on the ground.
Los Angeles Times
7 November 2013
Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki returns to a favorite subject — the romance of airplanes and flight — for his final film, 'The Wind Rises.
By Kenneth Turan
To see "The Wind Rises" is to simultaneously marvel at the work of a master and regret that this film is likely his last.
Japan's Hayao Miyazaki, perhaps the world's preeminent animator, beloved for "My Neighbor Totoro" and an Oscar winner for "Spirited Away," has announced his retirement. If he holds to that, it's fitting that this final film, inspired by but not limited to the life of brilliant aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi, is quintessentially his: stunningly beautiful and completely idiosyncratic.
Always determined to tell his kind of stories his way, Miyazaki has returned to subject matter close to his heart — the joy and romance of airplanes and flight, most fully explored in 1992's "Porco Rosso" — but he's elected to tell it in a manner new to him.
The great fantasist of contemporary animation celebrated for subject matter that has great appeal to children, Miyazaki has chosen to end his career with an inspired-by-history story that has adult relationships at its core.
Yet because this is Miyazaki, even the most realistic sequences, such as those dealing with the Great Kanto Earthquake and fire of 1923, are jaw-dropping visual knockouts. You can feel the care that goes into every hand-drawn frame here, and the emotion that conveys the director's sense of wonder at the pleasures of the physical world.
One of the world's great aeronautical engineers, Horikoshi is an unusual choice for a fervent pacifist like Miyazaki to make a film about because his most celebrated aircraft was the feared Zero fighter plane that attacked Pearl Harbor.
Though it is possible, as some writers in Japan have speculated, that Miyazaki intended his film to be part of the country's current debate about increased militarization, the director insists he was inspired by something completely apolitical, a quote he read of Horikoshi's: "All I wanted to do was make something beautiful."
"I wanted to portray a devoted individual who pursed his dream head on," Miyazaki wrote in his initial proposal for the film. "Dreams possess an element of madness, and such poison must not be concealed. Yearning for something too beautiful can ruin you. Swaying toward beauty may come at a price." Anyone who considers animation good for only Hollywood piffle will certainly have their heads turned watching this.
"The Wind Rises" begins, not surprisingly, with Horikoshi's childhood in the World War I era. If the chef in the documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" dreamed of slicing fish, this Jiro literally dreams of soaring through the air, of having an actual airplane parked on his roof that he can use to fly over the stunning, delicately beautiful countryside Miyazaki creates.
Making a cameo in Jiro's dreams is a personal hero of Miyazaki's, the visionary Italian aircraft designer Gianni Caproni (whose company manufactured the plane the director's Studio Ghibli production company is named after). It is Caproni who expresses to Jiro a philosophy akin to Miyazaki's own: "Airplanes are not for war or making money. Airplanes are beautiful dreams."
Too near-sighted to fly himself, Jiro is met again as a young adult, a double for Harold Lloyd in straw boater and dark-rimmed glasses, as he takes a train to Tokyo to begin his airplane engineering studies.
On that journey, Jiro not only has to deal with that great Kanto earthquake and fire but he also meets a fellow passenger, a bright young girl named Nahoko who admires the same poems he does. Though the aftermath of the chaos caused by the earthquake separates them for years, Jiro never stops searching for Nahoko.
The central section of "The Wind Rises" deals with Jiro working for aircraft manufacturing giant Mitsubishi and his steady rise through the designing ranks, a visionary pure and simple who just wants to build the best possible aircraft and finds his passion subverted by those in power almost without his realizing it is happening.
We don't see much of everyday Japan during wartime, but Miyazaki does spend considerable time on prewar situations that possibly influenced the course of history. The cityscapes he depicts may be exquisite, but the poverty of the nation and its feeling of inferiority to the West are disturbing. Horikoshi is portrayed as enough of a free thinker to get into political trouble, but his passion for his ideal plane never falters.
Though Horikoshi is the film's nominal subject, his personal life has been completely fictionalized by Miyazaki. The film's melancholy elements, including a charming romantic reconnection with Nahoko, come from the work of Tatsuo Hori, a writer of the pre-World War II era who wrote a novel called "The Wind Rises" that was inspired by the same line from French poet Paul Valery that opens the film: "The wind rises, we must try to live."
Despite the obstacles and difficulties life and society throw at them, that's what these characters attempt to do. "The Wind Rises" is a kind of summing up film for Miyazaki, a complex story that resists easy summation, but it is his genius to pull us into this world and make us so not want to leave it. This is a filmmaker who will be missed, and not in a small way.
("The Wind Rises" is scheduled for a one-week academy consideration run in its subtitled version and will return to theaters in February in a dubbed edition.)
National Public Radio
21 February 2014
By David Edelstein
The 73-year-old Japanese animation titan Hayao Miyazaki says The Wind Rises is his final film, and if that's true — and I hope it's not but fear it is, since he's not the type to make rash declarations — he's going out on a high.
The movie won't, I'm afraid, appeal to kids the way Ponyo or Spirited Away does. It's monster-, ghost- and mermaid-free. It centers on grown-ups and is gently paced — maybe 15 minutes too long, I'd say, but you can forgive those longueurs when the work is this exquisite. It's romantic, tragic and inexorably strange, a portrait of a young Japanese man who dreams of creating flying machines and the Imperial Empire that funds his research. His country will take those machines and send them off to rain death and destruction on its enemies — but that's not something to which the young designer gives too much thought. It's not part of the dream of flight.
The young man's name is Jiro, a composite of engineer Jiro Horikoshi and writer Tatsuo Hori, who wrote a novel called, also, The Wind Rises. From an early age, Jiro pores over drawings in English-language aeronautical magazines and communes in his fantasies with a visionary Italian aircraft designer called Caproni. There's only a whisper of distinction between Jiro's so-called reality and his dreams. In his visions, the young enthusiast — voiced in Disney's English-language version by Joseph Gordon-Levitt — stands on the wing of a plane under pink and gold cumulus clouds. Caproni, voiced by Stanley Tucci, is there, too, and they gaze in awe at an approaching flying machine.
The machine spoken of by Jiro and his Obi-Wan Caproni looks like a mechanically enhanced bird — there's barely any border between objects that are natural and engineered. Jiro's chief design is inspired by the curve of a mackerel bone; he takes his cues from living creatures. Miyazaki has given us living machines before, among them the mythical bus in My Neighbor Totoro, but here they're a mix of inorganic and organic. Everything has a spirit: levers, flaps and, of course, the wind.
The title comes from a line by poet Paul Valéry: "The wind is rising, we must try to live." It's the Buddhist carpe diem — go with the flow. The wind carries off the parasol of a fragile girl, Nahoko, voiced by Emily Blunt, into the hands of Jiro — who'll fall in love with her. Their love is idealized, but what an ideal. Though she's obviously dying of TB, she's plucky. She faces into the wind.
The movie's central contradiction is between the purity of Jiro's dreams and the deadly uses to which his plane — the legendary Zero fighter — is put. Does Miyazaki downplay the evil? Some critics say yes. One even stopped an awards meeting of a Boston critics society to say that anyone who voted for the movie was accepting the whitewash of atrocities. I don't see it that way. Miyazaki's irony isn't as broad as, say, Bertolt Brecht's in Galileo, the tragedy of a man whose appetite for science and lack of regard for its consequences lead inevitably — in Brecht's formulation — to weapons of mass destruction. But it's hard to imagine Miyazaki being that on-the-nose. The terrible implications are there, but underplayed.
It's the underplaying and the evenness of tone that are the key to his greatness, the way he transforms mundane sensations from real to surreal in barely perceptible puffs. And he puts so much individuality and soul into these anime characters with their standard button eyes and tiny noses that it's uncanny. He makes the human spirit seem as fleeting, yet as eternal as the wind itself.
New Mexico Mercury
7 March 2014
By Tamara Coombs
In 1941, How Green Was My Valley won best picture over Citizen Kane. I haven't seen Disney's Frozen, which recently won an Oscar for best full-length animated feature, but feel sure The Wind Rises is much better.
In The Wind Rises, anime master Hayao Miyazaki adds his own memories and obsessions to the real life of Jiro Horikoshi and the writings of Tatsuo Hori. The result is a complex film of great beauty, one that has angered the right wing in Japan for its attitude toward 1930s militarism, and disappointed others worldwide for its failure to show the consequences of the hero’s quest.
Jiro Horikoshi designed the innovative Zero, a long-range and highly maneuverable fighter used in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Once the United States had caught up in fighter design, the Zero became a manned missile. Late in World War II hundreds of Allied ships were attacked, and scores sunk, by kamikaze pilots.
Miyazaki chooses to focus on the life of the individual in a changing society. He paints an exceptionally detailed picture of Japanese society between the two world wars. This is a Japan that is not yet fully industrialized, where horse-drawn carts and pedestrians fill the unpaved streets and steam-powered ships are outnumbered on the waterways by sailboats. Middle and upper-middle class men and women may wear western dress during the day, but change into traditional clothing at home, a home that may be entirely Japanese in design or entirely western.
Jiro Horikoshi is first shown as an appealing boy who depends on thick glasses to correct his vision. He knows his poor eyesight will prevent him from becoming a pilot, but he dreams constantly of airplanes. One is wonderfully avian, with blue feather-like wingtips and a pink tail; others are warplanes carrying pulsating bombs tended by malevolent figures. In his dreams, Jiro meets the Italian airplane designer Caproni, who assures him that he needn’t be a pilot to become an aeronautical engineer.
In an instant, Jiro’s life course is set. He will design airplanes — “beautiful dreams.”
On the train on his way to study engineering in Tokyo, Jiro meets a young girl named Naoko. Both speak French and both know Paul Valery’s poem, “Graveyard by the Sea.” They quote to each other the lines that are the film’s epigraph,
“The wind is rising!,” says Naoko.
“We must try to live,” replies Jiro.
An earthquake interrupts their train journey as they approach Tokyo. In an extraordinary sequence, Miyazaki shows the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 as it moves from sea to city, demolishing buildings and causing a conflagration.
Jiro aids Naoko’s injured servant, using his slide rule as a splint for her broken ankle, then carrying her to safety on his back as pieces of burning paper and charred ash float down. At one point, Jiro looks up into the roiling clouds of smoke and sees in his mind’s eye warplanes, a foreshadowing of things to come as are the images of Tokyo reduced to rubble. In 1945, Tokyo was firebombed, leveling 19 square miles and killing over 100,000 people.
The earthquake sequence draws on Miyazaki’s life experiences and his preference on film for modeling good behavior rather than showing bad. During World War II, Hayao Miyazaki’s father managed Miyazaki Airplane, which was owned by his brother. It made parts for the Zero. Miyazaki’s family was evacuated to the city of Utsonimaya where they led a privileged life. When Miyazaki was four-and-a-half years old, Utsonimaya was fire bombed. He awoke to a room filled with pink light. His mother and siblings made their way out of town with their neighbors, his mother carrying Hayao’s younger brother on her back. They were rescued by Miyazaki’s uncle, who had barely managed to save his truck from the flames. Miyazaki’s family climbed into the truck and drove off as a neighbor implored, “Please take us with you.” Miyazaki never forgot that night.
Once Jiro’s schooling is complete, he becomes an aeronautical engineer at Mitsubishi. Japan is in an economic depression, with failing banks, large numbers of unemployed, and neglected children on the streets. At Mitsubishi, the pressure is on to design warplanes to be used against, who knows—America? Meanwhile, the men play baseball on their breaks and oxen pull the prototype planes to the airfield.
Jiro’s drafting table is shown again and again, the paper covered with sketches, formulas and calculations in pencil. These frames suggest Miyazaki’s own preference for the hand-drawn rather than the computer-generated. Nothing in The Wind Rises is computer-generated. The gorgeous watercolor landscapes and cloudscapes were hand-drawn and painted, as were the hundreds of buildings, scores of interiors, dozens of airplanes, scores of character-filled faces. Miyazaki also focuses repeatedly on Jiro’s slide rule. Perhaps because one has to approximate in order to arrive at the correct answer with a slide rule. If to draw is to see, to calculate with a slide rule is to think.
Years after their encounter on the train, Jiro and Naoko meet again in a resort in the mountains. They are brought together by the wind. The wind is a presence in the film. It ruffles Jiro’s tousled hair and Naoko’s summer dresses, ripples the water in a stream, the grasses in a meadow, the leaves on the branches. It unfurls flags and fills the windsocks at the airfields. It does what it will, beyond anyone’s control. The wind is the force of history. When Japan was saved from a Mongol invasion in the 13th century by a typhoon, the typhoon was described as a “spirit” or “divine” wind, that is, kamikaze. In 1930s Japan, it is clear that the wind is rising.
At the mountain resort, a German guest tells Jiro that the Nazis are a “gang of hoodlums” and that the great airplane manufacturer Hugo Junkers has run afoul of Hitler. He goes on to speak negatively of Japan’s attacks on China and Manchuria. The German is subsequently followed by Japanese secret police, as is Jiro. This, and the earlier expression of pacifist sentiments, is what seems to have bothered the Japanese right wing.
Jiro and Naoko quickly fall in love, a romance drawn from Tatsuo Hori’s 1938 short story, “The Wind Has Risen,” which has the same epigraph as the film. Naoko has tuberculosis, as did the female character in Hori’s short story and Miyazaki’s mother, who was bedridden for eight years. Jiro and Naoko’s devotion and displays of affection are highly unusual for a Miyazaki film. They indicate the importance given to the bond between them, one that sustains them and cannot be broken.
Near the end of the film Jiro says, “All I wanted to do was design beautiful planes,” but his beautiful planes were also killing machines. How they killed and whom they killed is not shown. It appears Miyazaki believes an individual should not feel guilt for the ways his talents are used. This is not a problem most of us have to face. But here in New Mexico, one thinks of Robert Oppenheimer at the detonation of the first A-bomb repeating lines from the Bhagavad Gita, “Now I am become Death, destroyer of Worlds.” And as Robert McNamara pointed out in The Fog of War, if the Japanese had won, Americans would have been charged with war crimes for the firebombing of 62 Japanese cities with napalm.
So, what are individuals to do when the wind rises? Fight back? Disappear? It seems Miyazaki believes we should recognize that we are powerless against the winds of history. We are to work to fulfill our dreams, to behave decently, to love deeply—to try to live, while the tempest rages.
New York Times
7 November 2013
‘The Wind Rises,’ Miyazaki’s Film About a Warplane Creator
By Nicolas Rapold
The Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki has long had an aerial fixation, setting one movie after another in the realms of fanciful flight, from “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind” to “Kiki’s Delivery Service” to the underrated “Porco Rosso” (about a World War I flying ace who turns into a pig man). Mr. Miyazaki remains enchanted with the idea of being airborne, which animation freely lends itself to, having sent little girls, castles and even swine into flight. “ The Wind Rises ,” his newest film, tells the fictionalized story of Jiro Horikoshi, a gifted aeronautic engineer who is historically notable — or infamous — for designing deadly warplanes used by Japan in World War II. Mr. Miyazaki’s lyrical chronicle of the inventor’s creative process and his poignant romance reminds us that staying aloft is a fraught endeavor. Yet even in this film about an absorbed artist of the floating world, premonitions of the calamitous events to come cannot be entirely absent.
Jiro is a natural and unpretentious solver of engineering challenges of all kinds. He notices the promising possibilities that a fish bone suggests for an airplane wing, and with his trusty slide rule, he makes a splint for a fellow train passenger, a girl named Nahoko, who is injured in Japan’s devastating 1923 earthquake. The depiction of the disaster is typical of Miyazaki’s virtuosic technique: the earth erupts with rippling, ramshackle motion, rising up and snapping like a rug as the artfully organic sound design summons groans and burps.
The plot of “The Wind Rises” is episodic, following Jiro from one project to another, portraying the creative process through sudden sequences suggesting his dream life. Though his days might be spent at a drafting table overseen by a benevolent troll of a boss, his inspirations come in lucid visions and plays of form. The air pioneer Gianni Caproni, his mustachioed mentor, supplies a spirited, wise perspective during Jiro’s stops and starts on his projects.
The film’s heart lies in Jiro’s innovative career and in his touching bond with Nahoko. They cross paths again at a mountain resort that she visits as a tuberculosis sufferer in the company of her father (who, in an offhand detail, seems to share Jiro’s loping gait). Mindful of her illness, Jiro and Nahoko marry quickly, and their relationship is shaped by their dwindling time together. After a coughing fit, hers is basically the only blood we see, perhaps notable in a movie about warplanes.
Between the earthquake and Jiro’s sometimes apocalyptic dreams, the film’s fanciful sequences seem to tap into Japan’s troubled unconscious, as if anticipating the cataclysms to come. That history has brought criticism in Japan, where some have cast the film as antipatriotic, and has led to a certain caution in its United States marketing because of how sympathetically it treats the creator of a machine used in the attack on Pearl Harbor and in kamikaze missions.
Yet just as with Isao Takahata’s “Grave of the Fireflies,” about two children surviving amid the terrors of World War II, it would be hard to argue that the subject of Mr. Miyazaki’s film was cavalierly seized upon. It is a considered choice, as Mr. Miyazaki is mindful that the inventor’s process is not necessarily focused on moral implications.
Mr. Miyazaki, 72, has stated with more finality than in past declarations that “The Wind Rises” is his last film. And like Shakespeare’s “Tempest,” it feels partly like a concluding reflection on creation and destruction. Its sonic quietude and mostly subdued palette, unusual for a striking colorist like Mr. Miyazaki, are almost unnerving. But Jiro’s world is not immune to upheaval, and Mr. Miyazaki does interrupt this idyllic view with the inflamed red of a fire at a university and of Nahoko’s blood.
Yet Jiro’s head is ultimately in his work and the preciously cocooned love of his wife, not the world at large. And just as we know that Jiro and Nahoko’s bliss has an end, so too are we aware that the bubble in which he toils will not last forever. But Mr. Miyazaki renders Jiro’s life and dreams with lyrical elegance and aching poignancy. At one point, Caproni advises Jiro that artists have 10 years of peak creativity. Yet “The Wind Rises,” with its complex diminuendo, underlines Mr. Miyazaki’s much longer, richly creative odyssey.
27 February 2014
Pick of the week: A Japanese legend bids farewell with a subtle, meditative epic about war, guilt and art
By Andrew O'Hehir
Human beings have always dreamed of flight, the legendary Italian aeronautical engineer Gianni Caproni tells his young Japanese protégé in Hayao Miyazaki’s elegiac and subtle farewell to filmmaking, “The Wind Rises.” But the dream is cursed: Flying machines will inevitably be used, Caproni says, to wage war and slaughter the innocent. Still, he says, he’d rather live in a world with pyramids. The metaphor is not explained, but like so much else in “The Wind Rises,” its meaning lies just below the surface: Every human endeavor on a large scale is compromised, and no one’s hands are clean. The greatest wonders of the ancient world were built by slaves, to honor tyrants.
Caproni’s soliloquy on the nature of dreams itself occurs in one of several haunting dream sequences in the film, one that finds Caproni (voiced by Stanley Tucci in the English-language version) and young Jiro Horikoshi (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) surveying the world from the uppermost wing of a huge and fanciful triplane. Some people may wish to describe “The Wind Rises” as a restrained or realistic work because it takes place in a recognizable facsimile of 20th-century Japan, rather than a fairy tale landscape or the mythological past, as in “Spirited Away” or “Princess Mononoke” or “My Neighbor Totoro.” But not me. This Oscar-nominated animated film, which Miyazaki has said will be his last as a director, is a work of immense mystery and strangeness, loaded with unforgettable images, spectacular sweeps of color and nested, hidden meanings. It feels to me like a meditative epic about Japan’s traumatic journey into modernity, and a complicated allegory about the innocence, arrogance and culpability of artists. It’s one of the most beautiful animated films ever made, and something close to a masterpiece.
There’s a certain amount of controversy surrounding “The Wind Rises,” which is based in large part on the life story of the real Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the notorious but magnificent Mitsubishi Zero, the lightweight and highly maneuverable fighter plane that enabled many Japanese victories early in World War II (including, of course, the attack on Pearl Harbor). Honestly, though, most of the controversy has come from right-wingers in Japan, who have accused Miyazaki of being insufficiently patriotic for depicting Horikoshi as a man plagued by doubts and apocalyptic premonitions. I’m not quite sure how anyone in the West could see this movie and believe that Miyazaki (a well-known pacifist) is trying to whitewash Japanese war crimes or duck the question of individual guilt. Arguably the question of individual guilt is the movie’s primary subject, or one of them. While Caproni — who also built planes for a fascist government — assures Horikoshi in one of their dream-meetings that airplanes are not instruments of war or ways of making money but “beautiful dreams,” the film’s constant thrum of death-haunted subtext suggests that Miyazaki does not find this sufficient.
While the phantasmagorical encounters between Caproni and Horikoshi (as far as I know they never met in life) are central to understanding this film, and feature its most breathtaking animated landscapes, they aren’t the only aspects of the story that feel like dreams. Miyazaki takes us back and forth between the bucolic, agrarian Japan into which young Jiro is born and the more urbanized and modern landscape his work gradually makes possible, or at least symbolizes. When Jiro goes to work at Mitsubishi in the late 1920s, teams of oxen are still required to haul aircraft prototypes to the airfield, and Japanese engineers have a reputation as second-rate copycats. When Jiro is sent to Germany in the ’30s to study at the Junkers factory, he doesn’t understand the nature of the society he sees there, or the character of the partnership between his own country and that one. He prefers to focus on the strains of Schubert’s “Winterreise” coming from an open window, and not on the boy being chased through the streets for unclear reasons.
While Miyazaki is the most famous of all Japanese animators, and his art and craft are on full display here, he may not get enough credit as an ingenious storyteller, who builds a narrative through hints and inferences and echoes. Jiro’s dreamlike voyage to Germany is echoed later by an encounter with a German tourist in Japan (voiced perfectly by Werner Herzog in the English version), who politely makes clear that Jiro is ignoring the consequences of his work — a brutal invasion of China, a puppet regime in Manchuria — and predicts that both their nations will be destroyed. As a young man, Jiro performs a life-altering act of kindness during the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, one of history’s worst natural disasters, which is unmistakably presented here as a premonitory vision of the destruction that will be visited upon Japan in 1945. Indeed, a deeper parallel may be at work, in that Jiro’s willful naiveté resembles that of the physicists who split the atom — they knew what that discovery would lead to, but also believed it was important in its own terms.
Indeed, I suspect there’s a note of covert artistic autobiography in “The Wind Rises,” whose title refers to a famous line by French poet Paul Valéry, contemplating a graveyard by the sea: “Le vent se lève! … il faut tenter de vivre!” (“The wind is rising! We must try to live!”) I don’t mean that Miyazaki fears his art has been perverted to evil purposes, or anything as blunt as that. It’s more that Miyazaki too has pursued his dreams without thought of consequence, himself fueling a change in the world around him that he doesn’t quite understand. He gives us Jiro as a pure-hearted genius by day, full of love and innocence, and a dark dreamer at night, sending his airplanes out by the thousands to destroy and be destroyed. On the one hand: “Isn’t this lovely?” On the other: “Watch out for what lies below.” Those are the messages Miyazaki has sent us all along, and this tender, ambiguous fable makes the perfect farewell.
20 February 2014
Hayao Miyazaki’s final film has the sweep of a David Lean epic and the dreamlike quality of late Kurosawa.
By Dana Stevens
Forgive me if I get verklempt about Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement from filmmaking before I even start reviewing his self-declared final film, The Wind Rises. The great Japanese animator, now 73, is one of those artists I feel lucky to have shared an overlapping lifetime with. He’s in the company of Maurice Sendak and Dr. Seuss and Margaret Wise Brown—people able to produce work for children that resonates far beyond childhood, perhaps because they somehow retained access to a part of their earlier selves most of us lose somewhere around the age of reason. Miyazaki’s greatest films have the organic quality of ancient fairy tales: The benevolent forest creatures in My Neighbor Totoro or the bathhouse-frequenting monsters of Spirited Away seem to spring full-blown from both Japanese folk culture and the deepest recesses of preverbal memory.
Miyazaki creates complex fantastical worlds that function according to their own mysterious but incontrovertible logic—and then embeds those worlds within equally specific real-life settings (so that, for example, the magical undersea kingdom in Ponyo believably exists side by side with the bustling small port city where the human hero, Sōsuke, lives with his mother). The interpenetration of reality and fantasy, memory and imagination, and past and present often constitutes an explicit theme in his work—never more so than in The Wind Rises, a biopic of the Japanese aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi that also seems to function as a kind of vicarious autobiography for the director. Like Jiro, Miyazaki came of age in a ravaged postwar Japan, though in the engineer’s case, the conflict in question was the first world war, not the second. And of course, like the absentminded, idealistic Jiro, Miyazaki would grow up to become a kind of professional dreamer, a single-minded creator of beautiful, intricate things. In Jiro’s case, these beautiful things—most notably his design for the Zero fighter plane, which became one of Japan’s most effective weapons in World War II—were requisitioned as implements of death, an irony that suffuses every frame of this dark and difficult film, which, it should be stressed, is not at all for young children. Between its upsetting wartime imagery, its often-technical dialogue (a major scene involves a group of engineers debating the best rivet), and its long, companionable scenes of “historical smoking,” The Wind Rises is as adult as a clean movie can get.
The Wind Rises opens on a pair of playful dream sequences, as the young Jiro (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the English-language dub) envisions himself flying over the countryside in planes of his own design, and later, engaging in some exhilarating wing-walking with the Italian aviation designer Giovanni Caproni (voice of Stanley Tucci). From there, we cut to a slightly older Jiro on a steam train to Tokyo, where he’s studying engineering. After an earthquake derails the train (in an extended, terrifying sequence that seems to personify the 1923 Kantō quake as a malevolent living entity), Jiro helps a young girl and her nanny find their way to safety. Many years later, when that girl grows up (to be voiced in English by Emily Blunt), Jiro will meet her again and fall in love with her, only to see their future threatened by the tuberculosis epidemic that swept Japan between the two world wars. All the while, Jiro and his best friend Honjo (voice of John Krasinski) are struggling both to succeed as engineers and to please their cranky, diminutive boss (voice of Martin Short), one of the few characters in this sometimes dour epic who occasionally serves up some comic relief.
Le vent se lève, il faut tenter de vivre (“The wind is rising, we must try to live”) reads a line of verse by Paul Valéry that serves as both the film’s epigraph and a recurring refrain in its story. (When he meets his future wife on the train, Jiro is reading a book of Valéry’s poems, and she quotes that line to him, the first of several times that a character will consciously cite it). Though it’s just slightly over two hours long, The Wind Rises has the historical sweep of a David Lean picture, complete with panoramic shots of migrating populations against a background of disaster and a romantic orchestral score by Miyazaki’s longtime musical collaborator, Joe Hisaishi. But the film’s oneiric, deeply personal imagery also sometimes recalls Akira Kurosawa’s late masterwork Dreams, in which the director gave vibrant cinematic life to eight of his own real-life nocturnal visions.
Since it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year, The Wind Rises has been the object of controversy for everything from its matter-of-fact depiction of the ubiquity of cigarettes in the postwar era (in one of my favorite scenes, Jiro and Honjo sit together in their Tokyo flat, chain-smoking in friendly silence) to its alleged trivialization of Japan’s role in some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. In South Korea, critics of the film have expressed chagrin at Miyazaki’s elision of the role of forced Korean labor in building the state-of-the-art military aircraft this movie showcases, at times, with something like romantic nostalgia. There are certainly unseized opportunities to delve deeper into the grim historical consequences of Jiro’s passion for innovative aviation design—but there’s also no denying the constant presence, in The Wind Rises, of the twin specters of wartime trauma and survivor’s guilt. Time and again, Jiro’s playful visions of whimsical flying machines are interrupted by images of real-life World War II warplanes exploding in midair or carpet-bombing whole cities, the cruel future reaching back in time to corrupt the innocent present. It’s as though Tombo, the aviation-mad boy who flies his own homemade bike-plane at the end of Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service, had been unwittingly swept up in the tide of history and grown up to be a kind of Robert Oppenheimer figure, regarding the fruits of his creation with horror and awe. “Airplanes are beautiful dreams,” Jiro’s imaginary mentor Caproni tells him in an early scene. “Engineers turn dreams into reality.” Then again, as Caproni will remind both his acolyte and the audience soon after, there’s a tricky moral valence to this artist’s privileging of the unreal over the real: “Dreams are convenient. One can go anywhere.”
21 July 2013
By Christopher O'Keeffe
Anticipation levels are always high with the release of a new Studio Ghibili movie, and even higher when the director and writer is the father of the company and man behind its best works, Miyazaki Hayao.
While Miyazaki's previous two works, Howl's Moving Castle and Ponyo contained fantastical elements and were based on story's for children, The Wind Rises (aka Kaze Tachinu) is a fictionalized biography of engineer Horikoshi Jiro, who designed the Zero fighter aircraft, which was devastatingly effective in the early days of World War Two. As a result of its 1920's/30's real world setting and overtones of the coming war it is stylistically reminiscent of Takahata Isao's Grave of the Fireflies, though it's not quite as harrowing as that masterpiece.
The film opens with Jiro as a young boy who dreams of flying, and we follow him as he moves away to study engineering and eventually enters the Mitsubishi Company getting the chance to fulfill his dream of designing planes.
It's hard to think of something original to say about the animation, it's as beautiful as Ghibili's work always is. The film is instantly recognizable as a Ghibili production, especially in the character design and attention to detail. Swirls of smoke and dancing shadows are some of the neat touches that bring these pictures to life. What is perhaps unique is the extensive use of long shots to capture a single character surrounded by a mass of green or a clear blue sky or a train hurtling through the countryside. A stunning sequence of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and panoramic shots of cramped and cluttered wooden towns, really give the film an epic quality and anchor it all so firmly in its time and place. The painted backgrounds in these sequences and throughout the movie are simply beautiful, especially when seen on a huge cinema screen.
Miyazaki has a well documented interest in aviation and it's visible all over his films, from the flying machines in his early hit Laputa (Castle In The Sky), to the sea-planes of Porco Rosso and the little boy with his pilot dreams in Kiki's Delivery Service. Having had so much practice it's no surprise that the flying sections in The Wind Rises are some of the most visually impressive, especially when reality is blurred as Jiro's mind slips into fantastical dreams of flying.
This film, despite all the visual similarities, is very different from Miyazaki's previous efforts. Basically the story is of a man in a company who works very hard. The film works best for the first hour, with Jiro as a boy and then a young man where fantasy and reality are mixed in his innocent dreams. We see as he soars through the air and is guided by conversations with his hero, Italian designer Caproni. Even in these sections the shadow of war is a dark cloud on the horizon. One of Jiro's dreams is interrupted by a squadron of shapeless black monsters attacking his aerial adventures and from this point on the military presence increases.
Despite the frequent flights into fantasy The Wind Rises is a film very much bound in reality, which may make it a struggle for younger audiences as the subject matter is fairly serious stuff and it gets quite wordy later on. It also features levels of smoking which would put Don Draper to shame. The film attempts to skirt the topic of the war with characters insisting their ambitions are only in designing beautiful planes, however there is no ambiguity in what these planes were used for. A touching romance helps lend the film a softer edge, although I couldn't shake the feeling that there was something off about a film on the life of the man who designed a plane for the Japanese Imperial Army, no matter how innocent the intent (Ghibili's or Jiro's).
The Wind Rises has the feel of a historical biography which could very easily have been made as a live-action feature. It's hugely impressive that such a film could be made on this scale, and Studio Ghibili is perhaps the only company who could, or would, even attempt it. With this being such a unique feature for them it will be interesting to see where the film eventually ends up on the list of the studio's best. This is an extremely interesting film and a bold move for the animation studio. The story itself could have been made in many different ways, but never would have looked as stunning as it does by Miyazaki's hand.
29 August 2013
Hayao Miyazaki's hauntingly beautiful historical epic draws a sober portrait of Japan between the two World Wars.
By Scott Foundas
One man’s dream of flight and an entire nation’s dream of technological and military supremacy give rise to “The Wind Rises,” Hayao Miyazaki’s elegiac, hauntingly beautiful historical drama inspired by the life of aviation engineer Jiro Horikoshi, who designed Japan’s A6M (or “Zero”) fighter plane. As grown-up as 2008’s “Ponyo” was tot-friendly, Miyazaki’s 11th feature draws a sober, socially astute portrait of Japan between the two World Wars, marked by flights of incredible visual fancy, harrowing images of poverty and destruction, and touches of swooning romance. Already a major hit at home (where it has grossed more than $80 million after six weeks in release), “Wind” will prove a trickier sell offshore than the helmer’s more familiar fantasy adventure pics, but should soar with animation and aviation buffs, and discerning arthouse goers of all stripes.
If “The Wind Rises” feels like a particularly personal project for Miyazaki, it’s because the director’s father ran a factory that produced rudders for the A6M, seeding in the young Miyazaki a lifelong fascination with real and imagined flying machines. In addition to his two films centered around fantastical airborne residences (“Castle in the Sky,” “Howl’s Moving Castle”), he directed a 2002 short on the history of flight for exhibition in his Studio Ghibli museum.
But the Miyazaki film with the strongest connection to his latest is 1992’s “Porco Rosso,” in which the title character was an Italian WWI flying ace transformed into a pig and the landscape is the rise of European Fascism in the years preceding WWII. That pic’s fictional aircraft manufacturer, Piccolo, was widely noted to be based on the real Italian aviation pioneer Giovanni Caproni, who appears in “The Wind Rises” as a kind of spirit guide, visiting Horikoshi in his dreams and uttering the Paul Valery quotation from which pic takes its allusive title: “The wind is rising! We must try to live!”
Those words become a rallying cry of sorts for the endurance of the human spirit in a movie where the characters’ personal defeats and are juxtaposed against Japan’s national tragedies of the 1920s and ’30s, including the Great Depression, the 1923 Kanto earthquake, a deadly tuberculosis epidemic and the looming shadow of WWII. Indeed, “Wind” is easily the most realistic film Miyazaki has made, with one of its running themes being the power of imagination to turn dreams into reality, and how quickly those same dreams can become nightmares.
The film’s Jiro — actually a fictionalized mix of Horikoshi and the Tubercular novelist Tatsuo Hori (to whom the pic is collectively dedicated) — is first seen as a boy living in a fog-shrouded rural prefecture where, too nearsighted to ever fly a plane, he instead yearns to build them. He obsessively reads English-language aviation magazines with the aid of a dictionary and enjoys his first nocturnal meeting with Caproni, who offers the boy a tour of his own dream aircraft: the triple-winged transatlantic passenger plane known as the Caproni Ca.60 (whose only prototype crashed during a 1921 test over Lake Maggiore — events depicted later in the film).
“Wind” then flashes forward to 1923, where Jiro (well voiced by Miyazaki’s fellow anime director Hideaki Anno) is now a Tokyo engineering student, returning to the city by train when the earthquake strikes. It is a sequence that ranks with the most visually arresting of Miyazaki’s career, the earth surging up in jagged, violent waves while a belching orange fire chokes the sky. In the ensuing chaos, Jiro meets Nahoko, who will go on to become the great love of his life — though for now she is just a scared young girl, fleeing the derailed train along with her injured nanny.
From there, Miyazaki traces Jiro’s ascent through the ranks of the Japanese aviation industry, his childhood awe at the wonder of flight challenged by the real-world implications of the war machines he finds himself creating. As a rising young star at Mitsubishi, he goes from making fittings for wing struts to leading the team working on a new fighter design, and makes a side trip to Germany where he communes with another storied plane designer, Hugo Junkers, creator of the first all metal-frame aircraft. Throughout, Miyazaki delights in the minutiae of process and detail, and one needn’t look too hard to see Jiro as an avatar for the filmmaker himself, traversing another field — like filmmaking — rooted in a tricky alchemy of art and science.
By the start of the 1930s, Jiro has begun work on the design of a carrier-based fighter that will become the Mitsubishi A5M (the precursor of the A6M). And though Miyazaki has stated that the intention of the film is not to condemn war, “The Wind Rises” continues the strong pacifist themes of his earlier “Nausicaa” and “Princess Mononoke,” marveling at man’s appetite for destruction and the speed with which new technologies become weaponized. On vacation in the countryside, Jiro meets a German expat, Castorp, who quotes from Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain” (a novel whose allegorical portrayal of pre-WWI Europe is echoed in the structure of Miyazaki’s film) and warns of Japan and Germany’s road to ruin. It is also there that Jiro reconnects by chance with Nahoko, now a ravishing young woman, albeit one suffering from TB. Nevertheless, they fall into each other’s arms and “The Wind Rises” takes on yet another dimension — that of an old-fashioned, tragic Hollywood romance.
If that romance is the only part of “Wind” that feels a tad too leisurely in its pacing, it’s a small quibble with a film that otherwise affords so much narrative and sensory pleasure. Miyazaki is at the peak of his visual craftsmanship here, alternating lush, boldly colored rural vistas with epic, crowded urban canvases, soaring aerial perspectives and test flights both majestic and ill-fated. The score by frequent Miyazaki collaborator Joe Hisaishi recalls Nino Rota in its lilting accordion-and-mandolin main theme.
“Airplanes are beautiful dreams,” notes Caproni in one of pic’s fantasy sequences. So, too, this movie about them.
30 October 2013
By Alonso Duralde
If the Japanese animation master makes good on his threat to retire, he’s going out on top with this gorgeous, haunting biopic.
“Airplanes are beautiful dreams” is a phrase reprised throughout Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises,” and the same could be said about Miyazaki’s films. Like our dreams, his animated features — which include such modern masterpieces as “Spirited Away,” “Princess Mononoke” and “My Neighbor Totoro,” among others — mix day-to-day concerns with imaginative fantasy that propels us to other times in other worlds.
Miyazaki says “The Wind Rises” will be his last film, and while the animator’s retirement would be a blow to this generation of cinema, at least he’ll be going out on top.
This biopic of aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi probably counts as Miyazaki’s most realistic film, and one that deals principally with adult rather than younger characters, but it contains many of the master’s trademark touches.
Like his “Laputa: Castle in the Sky” and “Porco Rosso,” it reflects Miyazaki’s lifelong obsession with flight and aircraft. And while “The Wind Rises” has its fanciful touches (in his dreams, Jiro communes with his Italian predecessor, aeronautical engineer Gianni Caproni), it’s perhaps Miyazaki’s only directorial effort that takes place in recognizable human history.
As a child, Jiro (voiced by Hideaki Anno) dreams of becoming a pilot, although he knows that his extreme myopia will keep him out of the cockpit. Instead, he studies engineering, quickly becoming a rising star at Mitsubishi, which hires him right out of school in the late 1920s. He realizes that Japan’s aviation industry is far behind the rest of the world — their runways are covered in grass, and they keep oxen to drag the planes from the factory to the airfield — and that it will take innovative design to catch up.
While he’s dedicated to his work, Jiro finds time to fall in love with Naoko (Miori Takimoto), whom he first met as a young girl when the two of them survived a train accident during 1923’s Great Kantō earthquake. When they are reunited as adults, she is battling tuberculosis, but they decide to marry anyway. (It happens off-screen, but this may be the first Miyazaki movie where actual sex between two characters is ever even implied.)
There have been countless cinematic biographies of authors, painters, sculptors and musicians, but this is one of the few I’ve ever seen that celebrates the imagination and groundbreaking work of engineers. We see Jiro’s excitement over making planes more aerodynamic (there may never again be another film where “flush riveting” is mentioned so frequently or enthusiastically) and his inspiration in shaping a wing like the curvature of a mackerel bone.
Jiro’s designs eventually became Japan’s World War II–era Zero planes, and while Miyazaki wisely keeps the war off-screen, he addresses the engineer’s regrets that his work toward better aircraft led to instruments of death.
There’s a special jolt I get from Miyazaki’s creations; whether it’s a moment of sheer beauty, or a character doing something moving or redemptive or unexpected, it prompts a sharp intake of breath as my eyes suddenly moisten. His landscapes are stunningly gorgeous, yes, but his storytelling and characters always provide hope for better times ahead.
Miyazaki’s films stress perseverance and strength of character and a love of humankind that feel like an oasis in a desert of cynicism.
At least three or four moments in “The Wind Rises” that gave me that special jolt; the voice acting is powerful, and Joe Hisaishi contributes another in his series of legendary scores for the director.
The film gets its title from a line in a poem by Paul Valéry: “The wind is rising. We must try to live.” Hayao Miyazaki is retiring. Movie lovers the world over must try to live.
(Note: Disney is releasing the Japanese-language version of “The Wind Rises” in Los Angeles and New York on Nov. 8 for a one-week Oscar qualifying run. The film will open nationwide in February 2014 in an English-dubbed version.)
The Sydney Morning Herald
22 February 2014
... the result is an uncompromisingly grown-up film which has whipped up debate among many of his fans. They can't understand why the famously anti-war Miyazaki has chosen to deliver a fictionalised and highly sympathetic account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Zero fighter plane Japan used in World War II.
The reason lies with Miyazaki's long-standing love of aircraft and admiration of those who create them. The Jiro he gives us here is an artist who can't bring himself to give up his vocation, despite his increasing despair over the war and his designs' involvement in it.
It's at its most beguiling in the romantic sequences that have Jiro wooing Nahoko (Emily Blunt/Miori Takimoto), a girl he first meets during the earthquake ... Less successful are the intrigues and machinations surrounding the development of his designs.
Despite the increasing number of craggy-faced secret policemen infiltrating events, the film never rises to a real action sequence. It's about the poignancy of being young, gifted, patriotic and at odds with everything your government is doing to your country.
Whatever is happening around him, his pride in his work remains paramount. In the end, it's a story about artistic obsession, which also means that it's the most personal of all Miyazaki's films.
18 July 2013
Zero's designer, noted novelist form source of inspiration
By Tomomi Sunaga
Award-winning animated film director Hayao Miyazaki will release his first movie in five years Saturday — a work based on the lives of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of Japan’s legendary Zero fighter plane, and mid-20th-century writer Tatsuo Hori.
Horikoshi was one of the “most brilliant” Japanese in the early, turbulent years of the Showa Era (1926-1989), when Japan charged toward war, Miyazaki, 72, said in a recent interview about his new movie, “Kaze Tachinu” (“The Wind Rises”).
The title is the same as one of Hori’s most celebrated novels, his 1937 work about a woman’s struggle with tuberculosis. He said it was a main source of inspiration for the movie.
Miyazaki, winner of such major international prizes as the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and the Oscar for best animated feature film, indicated he decided to make a movie about Horikoshi partly to “reclaim” the engineer from the almost sacred status accorded to him by those who glorify the Zero’s achievements in the war.
“I’ve been producing animated movies for the sake of children, so I wondered if I should make a film about a man who developed weapons,” said Miyazaki.
“But whatever anyone does, nobody can cause no harm for their whole lives. It’s wrong to label people as wrongdoers because they produced weapons.
“It was wrong from the beginning to go to war,” Miyazaki added. “But as the Japanese opted for war, it’s useless to blame Jiro for it. Basically, engineers are neutral. For instance, automobiles can help people, but they can also hit them.”
A Chinese student came to Miyazaki’s studio during the production of the new film to learn about animated movies. “He was forward-looking and motivated and I thought young Japanese used to be like him,” Miyazaki said. “I could by no means link him” to the dispute over the Senkaku Islands.
As border disputes have often been settled by war in the past, conflicts such as those over the Senkakus should be shelved, Miyazaki said. “Japan should make friends with China.”
Looking back on his 1989 work “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind,” Miyazaki said many of the problems he had foreseen confronting the world have become reality.
“Conflicts and environmental destruction have been occurring in various parts of the globe and as a result, wider areas of the world are lacking elements deemed necessary for a state to function,” he said.
“Populations have been exploding, prompting people to engage in a race to capture more of the Earth’s remaining natural resources. What people are facing now is what follows mass-production society. That is the consequence I predicted while making ‘Nausicaa.’ “
Nevertheless, while each generation faces its own challenges, there is no cause for pessimism, Miyazaki says.
“Various things happened in the era of Jiro’s life, but people continued to live,” he said. “Now earthquakes have occurred and nuclear power generation continues, raising questions about how we should live. But we shouldn’t be disheartened because all we need to do is to love others, eat and live by taking good care of children.”
Japan should spend more on children and ensure they become wise and resourceful, he said.
The new generation, in turn, will need new works to speak to their imaginations based on the difficulties they face, Miyazaki said.
“They must create fantasies from what they actually see.”
4 August 2013
By Hiroyuki Ota / Staff Writer
"Kaze Tachinu" (The Wind Rises), the latest work by animation film director Hayao Miyazaki, is now showing in theaters across Japan. The protagonist of this film is Jiro Horikoshi (1903-1982), the designer of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter aircraft, flown by the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II.
Aside from writing and directing animated films, Miyazaki through his Studio Ghibli has also created numerous cartoons that realistically depict war and weapons. What attracts him to weapons, and what inspired him to portray the man who designed the iconic Zero?
Miyazaki revealed his complex thoughts and feelings in a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun. Excerpts from the interview follow.
Question: You once tried to purchase an actual Zero from the United States, didn't you?
Miyazaki: Airplanes are the most beautiful when they are in the air. I wanted to see a Zero flown by a Japanese aviator, not an American. My fantasy was to see it flown under high-voltage power transmission cables next to Studio Ghibli in western Tokyo. But my wife told me to stop being such an idiot, and that was that.
Q: What is it about the Zero that fascinates you so much?
A: Including myself, a generation of Japanese men who grew up during a certain period have very complex feelings about World War II, and the Zero symbolizes our collective psyche. Japan went to war out of foolish arrogance, caused trouble throughout the entire East Asia, and ultimately brought destruction upon itself. From the history of actual warfare, we can only conclude that the Japanese military was simply incapable of getting its strategy right for the Battle of Midway and other crucial campaigns. But for all this humiliating history, the Zero represented one of the few things that we Japanese could be proud of. There were 322 Zero fighters at the start of the war. They were a truly formidable presence, and so were the pilots who flew them.
It was the extraordinary genius of Jiro Horikoshi, the Zero's designer, that made it the finest state-of-the-art fighter plane of the time. It was a contemporary of the Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa, operated by the Imperial Japanese Army. Both the Zero and the Hayabusa were about the same size, equipped with the same engine, and designed to be as lightweight as they could be. The only difference between the two aircraft was that the Zero was armed more heavily than the Hayabusa. And yet, when they flew together, the Zero was faster and could travel much farther than the Hayabusa. Why? Because Horikoshi intuitively understood the mystery of aerodynamics that nobody could explain in words.
The majority of fanatical Zero fans in Japan today have a serious inferiority complex, which drives them to overcompensate for their lack of self-esteem by latching on to something they can be proud of. The last thing I want is for such people to zero in on Horikoshi's extraordinary genius and achievement as an outlet for their patriotism and inferiority complex. In making this film, I hope to have snatched Horikoshi back from those people.
Q: You are anti-war, and yet, you are deeply in love with the Zero, which was essentially a weapon of war. You see an inconsistency there, don't you?
A: I am a bundle of contradictions. The love of weaponry is often a manifestation of infantile traits in an adult. A university professor of public finance once gave a most eloquent lecture on how the war economy destroys the national economy. I was shocked by how much money I'd wasted on my collection of books and models of weapons, and I ended up trashing them all.
Yet, when I saw such books a few years later, I couldn't resist buying them again. But, by then, I realized that my own perception had changed completely. What happens when you go to war with a country that has far superior industrial and natural resources than you do? You get your answer immediately when you compare the numbers of fighter aircraft made by Japan with those by Britain and the United States during the war.
The Zero aircraft became involved in the war of attrition the latter half of World War II had become, and Japan rapidly lost its finest pilots. From then on, everything began to go south. Structurally, the Zero was not designed for mass production. Noting the Zero's extremely complex structure, a European scholar of the history of aviation actually wrote that he was truly amazed by the fact that the Japanese had built more than 10,000 of them.
Q: In one scene in "Kaze Tachinu," Horikoshi stands motionless before a mound of plane wreckage.
A: He must have felt like a wreck of a man himself. He had completely devoted himself to his dream of building a beautiful plane, and reached the pinnacle of his career in the 1930s by designing the Type 96 carrier-based fighter, which appears in the film, and then the Zero. But the wartime shortage of engineers forced him to work himself ragged in order to develop new fighter aircraft while upgrading and improving the Zero. His predicament could be likened to Studio Ghibli being ordered to "produce five films a year without hiring any new staff." He did everything he could, but much of his efforts were in vain. Still, he never equated that with his personal defeat. He later wrote in no uncertain terms, "It appears that I am being held partially responsible for that war. But I do not believe I am responsible."
Q: Yoshitoshi Sone (1910-2003), the engineer who assisted Horikoshi in developing the Zero, reportedly said upon seeing the aircraft being used for suicide missions, "This is so distressing. If so many people were going to die, I should not have designed this aircraft. I should not have built it." Do you think Horikoshi felt differently?
A: He may have felt something similar. But at the same time, he must have believed that he had nothing to do with how the Zero came to be used. Obviously, he bears responsibility for that war as a Japanese citizen, but I don't see why one engineer has to be held responsible for the entire history of the war. In fact, I think it's pointless to raise the issue of Horikoshi's war responsibility at all.
I can relate to Sone's regret for having created the Zero. Still, had he not created it, I think he would have lived a much more disappointing life. As Sone says in my film, to build an airplane is a "beautiful dream that is also cursed." He built something he wanted to build, and was cursed and scarred as a result. But I fully believe that Sone must have thought later that there was nothing he could have done about it. In any age, it's best to live your life to the fullest. Nobody has the right to sit in judgment and decide what's good or bad for you.
Q: I understand that your father owned a munitions factory that made Zero components, and that experiencing the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and air raids during the war turned him to nihilism. Is that true?
A: I associate the word nihilism with someone who acts cool and blase in a shallow or cheap way. But my father wasn't like that. All he believed was that his family was the most important thing in his life. After experiencing disasters that practically turned his world upside down, he abandoned all big talk about things like "important values" and "the right way to live." He was determined to protect his family and acquaintances to the best of his ability, but he believed he could not possibly be responsible for the nation or society at large. His stock phrase was, "Don't lose like a fool."
Q: Do you think like your father now?
A: I have learned to accept the fact that I can be useful only in an area in my immediate proximity--say within a 30-meter radius, or 100 meters at most, in a manner of speaking. I've got to accept my own limitations. In the past, I used to feel obliged to do something for the world or humanity. But I have changed a lot over the years. There was a time when I dabbled in the socialist movement, but I must say I was quite naive. When I saw Mao Tse-tung's picture for the first time, I found his face revolting. But everyone told me that he was a "great, warmhearted man," so I tried to think it was just a bad picture. I should have trusted my own gut feeling. That certainly wasn't the only time when I made a bad decision. I still am a man of many mistakes.
Q: During the period from the late Taisho Era (1912-1926) to the early Showa Era (1926-1989), which forms the backdrop of your film, there occurred the Great Kanto Earthquake and the Great Depression, and tensions were rising in the international community.
A: So very like now. One difference, though, was that back then, the Japanese people didn't take a long and healthy life for granted. At one time, Tokyo led the world in the number of tuberculosis patients. Young people were simply dropping dead. Because there was no guarantee about their future, everybody focused on living their lives to the fullest while they could.
Last year and this year, several friends and colleagues of mine died in their 40s and 50s. Death comes to the young and old alike in no set order. It compels you to imagine that the Grim Reaper is ever lurking behind you. I myself become terrified of death when I am in a negative state of mind. But the thought of death ceases to bother me once I become productive.
Q: You say you can't be responsible for anything that happens beyond your figurative boundary, but in reality you are influencing countless people through your films. What do you say about that?
A: I make films as a business, not as a cultural endeavor. My films just happened to be successful. If people weren't interested in what I make, my company would go belly up in no time. Some of my staff who joined Studio Ghibli recently seem to think they've landed a job in a stable company, but that's pure illusion and outright ludicrous.
Q: With animated film studios increasingly farming out work overseas where wages are cheaper, the "hollowing" of the industry is now in progress. But Studio Ghibli continues to hire full-time workers here in Japan. Why are you doing that?
A: That is in order to ensure quality. We switched to a full-time employment system after making "Majo no Takkyubin" (Kiki's Delivery Service) more than 20 years ago. Until then, every film was made under contract with animators, whom we paid on a piecework basis. But to produce densely drawn pictures, the animators had to slow their pace of work, which translated into drops in their income. It became clear that the piecework payment system would only wear out the animators, so we decided to put them on salary as full-time employees. We knew, of course, that doing so would require us to be more prolific in producing new works in order to make ends meet, and that this would lower our operating efficiency. Still, it was the only way for us to survive and keep making pictures.
With "Kaze Tachinu," the people we hired three years ago truly proved their mettle. They worked meticulously even on the most crowded mob scenes, the details of which would make any animator want to cry. What they did was so amazing that the result took even their breath away.
Aside from Studio Ghibli, I believe the only other Japanese animation production company that keeps a certain number of full-time people on its payroll is Khara Inc., run by Hideaki Anno, the director of the anime TV series "Neon Genesis Evangelion." I have known and worked with Anno for 30 years. He is undergoing unspeakable hardships, giving his all to film-making and grooming the next generation of film makers. I asked him to do Horikoshi's voice in "Kaze Tachinu." Anno is being totally his own person in living this present era to the fullest. He is the closest match to Horikoshi I could ever come across today.
Hayao Miyazaki was born in 1941. A graduate of Gakushuin University, he joined Toei Animation Co. in 1963 and became active in the company's labor movement. Miyazaki co-founded Studio Ghibli in 1985. His numerous works include "Kurenai no Buta" (Porco Rosso).
Los Angeles Times
15 August 2013
By Rebecca Keegan
"The Wind Rises," Hayao Miyazaki's first feature directorial effort in five years, will premiere at the Venice and Toronto film festivals in coming weeks, and a new trailer has piqued the curiosity of the 72-year-old animator's devoted fan base.
But "The Wind Rises," or "Kaze Tachinu," has already stirred a controversy in Mayazaki's native Japan, where it opened July 20.
In stark contrast to Miyazaki's fantasy-based animated family movies such as "Spirited Away," "Ponyo" and "Howl's Moving Castle," "The Wind Rises" is a biopic of Jiro Horikoshi, the designer of the Zero fighter plane, which the Japanese used during World War II.
The movie's subject dovetails with an issue currently under heated debate in Japan: the new prime minister's plan to amend the country's constitution to allow for the building of a full-fledged military, boosting the limited self-defense forces put in place after the war.
Miyazaki, a venerated cultural figure in Japan, published an essay last month objecting to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan, in the process raising the ire of some Japanese conservatives, who on Internet message boards labeled him "anti-Japanese" and a "traitor."
Miyazaki's movie, which is seeking U.S. distribution, reflects his pacifist stance. In the subtitled trailer above, he depicts Japan in the years leading up to WWII, when it faced some of the same problems that have plagued the country in recent years, including a devastating earthquake and economic stagnation. The character of Horikoshi appears as a contemplative young man, tossing paper airplanes with a girl, gazing at the Japanese countryside from the window of a steam train and working in a factory, until the war hits and the tone shifts, with a plane breaking up in the sky and blood falling to the ground.
Miyazaki has some shared history with Horikoshi. During the war, his father's company made rudders for the designer's Zero planes. He also has another connection to the war: when Miyazaki was a child, his father ran a club that served occupying American soldiers.
In 2011, Miyazaki told Japan's Cut magazine that he was inspired to make "The Wind Rises" by a quote he read of Horikoshi's: "All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful."
The controversy over the film hasn't hurt its box office prospects in Japan. "The Wind Rises" has been the No. 1 film since it opened four weeks ago, and has so far grossed $57 million there.
8 September 2013
By Keiko Sato / Staff Writer
Hayao Miyazaki's latest anime movie, "Kaze Tachinu" (The Wind Rises), is leaving audiences with a taste for Siberia — not the subarctic region of Asia, but a once popular sweet that had been hard to find until the movie was released in Japan.
Made by sandwiching "yokan" (bean paste jelly) between two slices of sponge cake or castella, a cake made mostly from eggs, sugar and flour, Siberia was widely popular before the end of World War II. But the number of companies making Siberia declined over the years as sales dropped.
However, some shops that still bake the sweet have seen sales shoot up ever since the July release of the animated feature.
One such bakery is the unpretentious San Roza in the Yagisawa district of Nishi-Tokyo, which hasn't changed its appearance since it was founded 37 years ago. Next to the cakes and breads is a display of several dozen Siberia.
"I felt like eating it after watching the movie," said a 49-year-old woman from Kodaira.
The treat consists of a layer of yokan several centimeters thick sandwiched between two pieces of cake. It is then cut into triangles measuring about 10 cm in length.
It is said that the first Siberia appeared in bakeries during the late Meiji Era (1868-1912) to Taisho Era (1912-1926).
As for the name, there are several theories. One suggests that the yokan represents the Siberian Railway as it travels over snow fields. Another possible explanation is that the cake resembles the appearance of permafrost in Siberia.
In the movie "Kaze Tachinu," there is a scene where the protagonist Jiro Horikoshi, who designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter aircraft, says at a bakery, "Give me two Siberia."
After the movie was released on July 20, not a day has gone by in which customers have not come to San Roza asking for Siberia, according to the shop owner.
In the past San Roza only sold it through reservations because the sponge cake part of the sweet does not remain edible for long during the summer. Even then, only a few were sold each day.
But with the huge number of requests from customers, the shop has made Siberia available on a regular basis. Between 50 to 100 are sold daily, and it is especially popular among older women.
Store owner Kitoshi Sugimoto, 72, said he was overjoyed by the extra work that the sales have created.
The Coty Bakery in the Naka Ward of Yokohama has been selling Siberia since it opened in 1916. Following the anime’s release, sales have increased by 1.5 times, according to Toshio Manaka, 64, the third-generation store owner.
Manaka said the number of bakeries selling the sweet began declining from about the time the Japanese economy took off in the 1960s.
Yamazaki Baking Co., which supplies supermarkets in the Kanto region with Siberia, sold about 300,000 pieces in August, a fivefold increase over August of last year. Company officials said they have received more inquiries from customers wanting to know where they can buy the sweet.
San Roza’s Sugimoto said, "While we had been baking the sweet for only a few fans until now, we are grateful that more people have come to know about it because of the movie."
5 March 2014
By Hiroshi Ishida
TRENTO, Italy--Acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki's animated historical drama “The Wind Rises” is set to be released in Italy this spring, and Italo Caproni couldn't be happier.
The 40-year-old Caproni is the grandson of Gianni Caproni (1886-1957), an Italian aircraft designer who is depicted in Miyazaki's World War II aviation story.
“The Wind Rises” is based on the life of Jiro Horikoshi (1903-1982), the designer of Japan's Zero fighter aircraft. In the film, an older Caproni encourages a young Horikoshi to follow his dream to design airplanes.
“My grandfather, Horikoshi, and director Miyazaki are all similar in that they are professional and are very fond of creating something,” said Italo Caproni, who lives in a suburb of the northern alpine city of Trento. Trento is also the home of the Gianni Caproni Museum of Aeronautics, which houses about 30 airplanes, including those built by Gianni's company.
An anime fan, Caproni was moved when he first saw Miyazaki’s earlier film, “Porco Rosso,” in 1998. A story about a former Italian World War I fighter ace, “Porco Rosso” was set in the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Italy and featured many airplanes that were similar to aircraft designed by Gianni Caproni.
Caproni was so impressed that he sent Miyazaki two books that contained photos and blueprints of creations of his grandfather's company.
A long-time aviation buff, Miyazaki was no stranger to Gianni Caproni's work. The director had named his Studio Ghibli after the Caproni Ca.309 Ghibli World War II fighter aircraft.
“It is one of my most favorite airplanes," Miyazaki wrote in his reply to Caproni. "That’s why we used the word Ghibli for the name of our animation studio.”
Years later, Miyazaki wrote to Caproni again to tell him that his grandfather would be depicted in “The Wind Rises.”
“Your grandfather appears in my new movie. I am respectful of him,” Miyazaki wrote. “It is thanks to the books you sent me.”
Caproni said he was moved to tears when he first saw “The Wind Rises” at the Venice Film Festival last September.
“After the end of World War II, the existence of my grandfather was denied," he said, adding that his grandfather had been labeled as a “collaborator" in the war.
Caproni said, "I thought director Miyazaki understands my grandfather better than Italians do."
Gianni Caproni designed and manufactured his aircraft in 1910 for the first time in Italy. His aircraft company constructed many fighter planes after World War I broke out in 1914.
In 1940, immediately before Italy entered World War II, the government of Prime Minister Benito Mussolini granted Caproni the title of count. Because of that, Caproni’s factories were destroyed by anti-fascism partisans immediately after the end of the war, and he was forced into hiding, his eldest daughter, Maria Fede Caproni, 80, said.
“For them, my father was probably the ‘last fascist,’ ” she said.
After the war, Caproni tried to revive his company. Seeking investors, he went to the United States and South America. However, he failed to find any backers. The aircraft division of his company collapsed in 1950. Disappointed, he died in 1957.
Italo and Maria Fede said Caproni just wanted to create cutting-edge products and was not a militaristic person. They said there is a letter written by Caproni in 1913, in which he wrote, “The future of aviation is in passenger planes, not wars.”
The symbol of Caproni’s dream was the Ca.60, known as "the world's first jumbo aircraft." The Ca.60 was intended for trans-Atlantic flight. However, it crashed on a test flight in March 1921.
Miyazaki depicted the Ca.60 in a dream sequence in “The Wind Rises.” In the dream, the huge plane flew in the sky.
With “The Wind Rises” scheduled for a spring release, Gualtiero Cannarsi, a translator in Rome in charge of translating Studio Ghibli’s films into Italian, is preparing for the dubbing of the film.
"Horikoshi lived during an unhappy time and lived his life hard for his dream," the 36-year-old Cannarsi said. "People cannot choose the times when they are born. But in any time, you should do your best. That is the message from the movie.”
8 September 2013
By Kirk Spitzer / Tokyo
Anyone looking for evidence of Japan’s conflicted view of its wartime past can find plenty in this summer’s box-office hit: A lyrical, animated film that pays homage to the designer of the feared World War II-era Zero fighter plane — but is studded with criticism of Japan’s colonial and wartime aggression.
The Wind Rises has claimed more than $80 million in ticket sales since opening last month and is on track to become Japan’s top grossing film of the year.
It was written and directed by Academy Award winner Hayao Miyazaki, an ardent pacifist and aviation buff, who once tried to buy a restored Zero for himself. The 72-year-old Miyazaki is a beloved figure in Japan, producing family-oriented summer movies for more than two decades, but his latest film has been denounced by nationalists as “anti-Japanese.”
The Wind Rises was released amid tense territorial disputes with neighboring China and South Korea and renewed debate over Japan’s wartime responsibility. Conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stirred controversy during a Diet session earlier this year when he seemed to deny that Japan had committed wartime “aggression.” Abe wants to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution and ease restrictions on the military.
Whether The Wind Rises will help, remains unclear. The film focuses on the early life of Jiro Horikoshi, a brilliant engineer who designed several warplanes, including the Mitsubishi Zero. The light, agile fighter ruled the skies at the outset of the war and figured prominently in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
But, perhaps surprisingly, the film includes few battle scenes or direct references to the war. The Zero itself is not seen until the very end of the film — lying by the thousands in ruined heaps.
Instead, the film is built largely around a fictional love story between Jiro and a young woman he meets by chance during the 1923 Tokyo earthquake. The film includes numerous dream sequences in which Jiro speaks with an Italian aircraft designer who serves as his inspiration, long stretches of aircraft soaring majestically through the sky, and the richly detailed backgrounds for which Miyazaki’s films are known.
Yet glimpses of the darkness of that era are scattered throughout.
Jiro’s colleague notes that the government has plenty of money to spend on weapons, but none to feed the poor. Jiro is forced to hide from the Kenpeitai “thought police” for reasons never fully explained. A visiting engineer from Germany (Japan’s Nazi ally) notes that the Japanese are good at shutting out unpleasant realities: the break with the League of Nations, the ongoing war with China, and a history of “making enemies of the world.”
Some reviewers and moviegoers have found the message ambiguous. Jiro works tirelessly to build powerful warplanes, but never questions how they will be used. The government is seen at fault, but no mention is made of the role of the emperor.
Still, for most Japanese the message is clear, says Mark Schilling, a longtime film critic in Japan.
“It’s the images toward the end where you understand what Miyazaki is trying to say. He gives you very striking, dramatic images of destruction — the planes dissolving in front of the hero. Jiro doesn’t get up and make a speech against the war because he doesn’t have to. This is Miyazaki — he can sum it all up in one image,” says Schilling.
Miyazaki says he was motivated to make the film in part to correct the record on the war era. Normally reticent to speak in public, Miyazaki authored a scathing attack on what he says is a “lack of knowledge” among political leaders about the war and its consequences. In particular, he said he was “disgusted” by the Abe administration’s plans to alter the constitution.
“Miyazaki has always been known for his liberal, pacifist tendencies, but it is nevertheless surprising that he chose to speak out so clearly against the policies of the incumbent prime minister. Political statements by famous figures in show business are much less common in Japan than the U.S.,” says Koichi Nakano, a professor of comparative politics at Tokyo’s Sophia University.
Miyazaki also admits to a long, personal connection with the Zero itself. His father worked for a wartime company that made parts for the Zero, and Miyazaki once tried to buy a restored Zero but gave up when his wife refused permission.
He says he understands the inherent contradictions.
“A generation of Japanese men who grew up during a certain period have very complex feelings about World War II, and the Zero symbolizes our collective psyche,” Miyazaki said in a recent interview. “Japan went to war out of foolish arrogance, caused trouble throughout the entire East Asia, and ultimately brought destruction upon itself… For all this humiliating history, the Zero represented one of the few things that we Japanese could be proud of.”
Los Angeles Times
16 September 2013
By Steven Zeitchik
Across the Pacific, Hayao Miyazaki has already created a hit and a conversation piece with “The Wind Rises,” his look at the early days of aviation and the fictionalized formative years of Japan's Zero airplane creator Jiro Horikoshi as he becomes a star engineer. The animation legend’s first movie in five years — and probably his last ever -- “The Wind Rises” has become a box-office hit in Japan since opening in July and generated plenty of op-ed talk for its political content.
In examining a man who created a plane that would become key to Japan’s efforts in World War II, the film, titled “Kaze Tachinu" in its native Japanese, has the whimsy of much of the director’s work but with a patina of ideology. Miyazaki hasn’t been silent either, recently publishing an essay opposing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to rebuild the military.
Judging by reaction to the film as it’s played the festival circuit — it’s next up for a stop in New York after previous swings to Venice, Telluride and Toronto — it will be a talker on this side of the world too. Here are five key themes and symbols to know about the movie before its Oscar-qualifying run in November and commercial release Feb 21. (No spoilers, but some plot points are discussed.)
Militant notions. Miyazaki in the past few months has generated criticism from both the right (for his Abe critique) and the left (for chronicling/glorifying a man who designed warplanes). Politics don’t run through every scene of the movie, which is as much a love story as anything else, but when they do make an appearance it’s with some force. Early in the film, a man in Jiro’s reverie — the Italian aviation figure Giovanni Caproni, who recurs in the hero's imagination — tells the young Jiro that “airplanes are beautiful dreams” and warns against using them for destructive purposes. Later, there are ominous references to the “thought police” and the suggestion that dark militaristic forces are going to co-opt Jiro’s talent for violent ends. There’s also a caricature-ish depiction of the Japanese navy.
Animal instinct. Miyazaki is known for a gentle mysticism involving all parts of the spirit world. That includes animals, which get several call-outs here. A well-designed plane is referred to as a “full-metal duckling” (the opposite of an “ugly tin duckling”). There’s a humorous scene in which oxen are used to pull airplane parts. And Jiro gets inspiration from the shape of a bone found in a mackerel, prompting him, after looking at some well-made American designs, to drolly remark, “Americans eat mackerel too?”
Magical realism. As this is a Miyazaki movie, there’s plenty of magical realism. In the airplane dream Jiro is able to walk over the plane as Caproni tells him, essentially, “We can’t go up here, but in a dream you can go anywhere.” Later in the movie a door is able to take flight, while a paper airplane is capable of some physics-defying tricks.
Big in Japan. The tension between patriotism and self-criticism is heavily at play in this portrayal of a pre-WWII Japan, which questions the subjective nature of progress and the particular ways Japan forged its identity in the 20th century. “Is Japan a modern country?” is a question asked often, both literally and figuratively. Deadly earthquakes and tuberculosis epidemics are present, suggesting a tragic lack of modernity. But there’s also a sense amid all that of a filmmaker who feels deeply connected with the land — bonds that the war would sever.
Windy City. Perhaps the biggest symbol in the movie is, of course, the wind. That takes a concrete form as Jiro designs a plane meant to reduce wind resistance, and as he and Caproni try to escape a fire as the former warns of the danger because "the wind is rising." But it’s also a symbolic presence, introduced to represent the intangible power of imagination to carry us. And it’s an animating force in the movie's romance. As Jiro’s great love, Nahoko, tells him, the wind brought him to her.
18 November 2013
By Susan J. Napier
"Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground" -- James Taylor
The other day I had the pleasure of being interviewed on NPR for a segment on the Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki and the opening of his film, The Wind Rises. But the pleasure was complicated: I was embarrassed to hear myself admit on the radio that I had cried while watching the film. In fact, my tears were not only for the movie's bittersweet love story and for the news that The Wind Rises is supposedly Miyazaki's final film, although both these aspects certainly contributed. But I was also sad because The Wind Rises in its insistent depiction of history over fantasy suggested new directions that the director might have chosen, new roads that now would not be taken, thanks to his retirement from film making.
In a sense "the road not taken" can also apply to the film's narrative. The Wind Rises is the story of an inventor, Jiro Horikoshi, and the technological work of art that he creates. Much of the film revolves around Jiro's obsessive work on this creation and the dreams and desires that swirl around it. And the final product is indeed a great success -- the most advanced of its type, innovative, beautifully constructed and superbly efficient in its function. In the earlier manga version of the film Miyazaki explicitly compares his own work in creating anime to Jiro's industry and its product.
But the fact is that what Jiro creates is not an anime. It's a warplane -- the Mitsubishi Zero, a state-of-the-art weapon that allowed Japan to rule the skies for the first year or so of the Pacific War. Zeros led Japan's invasion of China in 1937 and bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. But perhaps their most ironic and poignant use came at the end of the war, as the vehicle for Japan's young kamikaze pilots who destroyed themselves and their planes in a last-ditch attempt to protect their homeland against American warships. The road that Japan chose to take with this advanced technology ended in the country's devastating defeat in 1945.
With such an emotionally loaded history attached to it, it is hardly surprising that the Zero should inspire a film or a manga. But what is surprising is what year the film ends -- in 1937 with the announcement of the Zero's successful development. We never see the plane deployed or the tragic aftermaths of this deployment. Instead the audience is offered a dreamlike coda in which Jiro stands in a field surrounded by shattered aircraft. Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.
The film and Miyazaki's recent actions in general have generated much controversy. Last summer he and his colleagues at Studio Ghibli produced an 18 page statement detailing their opposition to any changes in Japan's so-called "Peace Constitution." Miyazaki, his fellow director Takahata, and two others wrote about their horrific experiences during World War II, insisting that Japan must never again take the path to war. The rightwing reacted strongly -- suggesting that Miyazaki was an out-of-touch pacifist. "Old coot" was one comment. At the same time Koreans and other Asians were criticizing the director as a militaristic nationalist. To give an American analogy -- imagine if in the same summer George Lucas and Steven Spielberg issued a lengthy pro-gun control manifesto at the same time as Spielberg released a movie detailing the life of the inventor of the atomic bomb.
What is Miyazaki doing here? Can he be both a militarist and a pacifist at the same time? We might find a hint in one of his childhood reminiscences. In a collection of interviews published in the book Starting Point , Miyazaki recalls how he " grew up very excited about war films and drawing military things all over the place... I expressed my desire for power by drawing airplanes with sleek and pointed noses and battleships with huge guns." Lost in admiration for the soldiers, sailors and pilots and "thrilled" by their bravery, the young Miyazaki vicariously leapt into their adventures, an experience that he expresses in many of the visceral battle scenes in his work. But, in an important coda to this reminiscence, Miyazaki concludes with these poignant words, "It was only much later that I realized that in reality these men had desperately wanted to live and been forced to die in vain."
In The Wind Rises and in his essay last summer Miyazaki is forcing his viewers and readers to confront a nasty truth about the human condition. War can be exciting -- stirring up visceral emotions to an intensity we don't often feel in our normal lives. And technology, perhaps especially military technology, can be cool -- gripping, beautiful, and viscerally satisfying. When Jiro contemplates his plane he gazes with the expression of an artist who has successfully created a marvelous work of art.
At the same time, however, war brings human suffering on an unimaginable scale. And technology misused brings about disaster as well. Throughout his career Miyazaki has never shied away from showing these contradictory aspects. His first major film Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind depicts its gentle messianic heroine wielding a gun and, in the manga version, deciding to wreak destruction on massive scale. The underrated Porco Rosso centers around a former WW I pilot who turns into a pig in his disgust at the war and the rise of fascism, but this pig still enjoys a good aerial dogfight with the right combatants. Miyazaki's complex masterpiece Princess Mononoke pits godlike beasts against rifle wielding humans in a battle where no one is the winner.
These films are all fantasies and Miyazaki is known as perhaps the greatest fantasy filmmaker of all time. All the more reason that his choice to end his career with a conspicuously un-fantastic historical film is so interesting. In an interview with the Japanese broadcasting company NHK last summer Miyazaki announced that he could no longer make fantasies. Behind that statement may lurk a certain despair at the possibility of bringing magic into a increasingly dark and complex world. The Wind Rises, however, still shows us some of the magic of the everyday -- hard work, creation, love, and beauty. These are directions that remain worth exploring. At the very least, Miyazaki's legacy can help keep these roads open for the next generation of film makers.